In full disclosure, I was provided with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.
As a school psychologist, I work with kids that exhibit challenging behaviors on almost a daily basis. My colleagues and I have developed numerous classroom interventions and behavior plans for children ranging in age from 3 to 21 years old. It is wonderful to be able to find new and useful resources to help develop new plans and interventions. When I found the book When Nothing Else Works: What Early Childhood Professionals Can Do to Reduce Challenging Behaviors by Dr William DeMeo, I knew it would be the perfect resource to add to my library.
When developing ways to work with children it is critical for everyone to work together. As stated in the preface, “Through collaboration – sharing different areas of expertise and responsibility while working toward common goals – you will have success in achieving what is in the best interest of the child.” This book offers advice and strategies that are useful to everyone that works with a child that has challenging behaviors. The information provided in this book can be shared and used as a team to develop interventions that can best help a child in need.
In When Nothing Else Works, the author helps the reader understand how the brain develops and it’s impact on behavior. Without understanding child development it is hard to determine why a child is behaving the way they are. Dr. DeMeo also clearly defines challenging behaviors and helps you understand what function the behavior may serve for a child. It is important to ask yourself who, why, when and where when trying to understand a child’s behavior. This means understanding who the child is, why they are behaving in such a way (the function the behavior serves), when is the behavior occurring and where is it happening. Answering these questions will help you better understand the child’s needs thus develop a more effective and appropriate plan of action.
I really enjoyed Chapter 4 Resilience in Young Children. In this chapter, Dr. DeMeo really emphasizes the importance of social and emotional development. “Emotional and social intelligence are critical components in building resilience in children.” Children need to learn to self-regulate, calm themselves when upset, recognize the feelings of others and be socially aware. I found the detailed list of 8 calming techniques to be extremely useful for the classroom as well as with my own children at home.
Chapter 5 The Early Childhood Environment offers wonderful advice, strategies and tips for educators. “Young children learn best in an environment where they feel safe to explore, experience and interact.” Dr. DeMeo helps educators create this type of environment. These strategies can also be helpful for moms who homeschool their children. Children who learn at home also need an environment that is conducive for academic, social and emotional growth.
To organize and structure a successful learning environment, educators must focus on aesthetics, softness, personal space and visual cueing (in young children, visual processing exceeds all other senses). A successfully organized classroom can help prevent challenging behaviors. Five areas to consider are: group time areas, location of centers, shape and boundaries of centers, accessibility of material and orderly organization and use of materials. Creating a calm and predictable classroom can also prevent some challenging behaviors.
Providing structure and routine also help children develop the social and emotional intelligence discussed earlier. In addition, children thrive on order and routine as it provides a sense of stability and security. Having a routine also means a child is aware of when a transition will take place. Transitions are often difficult for young children and can result in problematic behavior. I agree with Dr. DeMeo when he said, “Transition times, when used properly, can become teachable moments.”
Another important step to prevent challenging behaviors is to establish developmentally appropriate expectations. First, the expectations should be clear and concise. Second, they must be reasonable and few in number so kids can remember them. Last, they should be taught. Dr. DeMeo offers the following strategies to help teach the children what the expectations are: model the behavior expected, provide cues (especially visual) and practice.
Additional preventative strategies are provided in Chapter 6. I really enjoyed the list of Trust Activities recommended to help support positive interactions. Engaging in active learning is another way to help prevent challenging behaviors. When children are engaged in a lesson and actively involved they are less likely to get bored and act out. “An active learning environment provides a climate where learning is enjoyable and engaging for children.” When active learning also incorporates physical movement, even more challenging behaviors can be prevented.
The remainder of the book (Chapters 7-10) focus on intervention. The importance of engaging in active listening and metacommunication is stressed. Educators and parents will learn that using appropriate nonverbal communication is essential in dealing with challenging behaviors. Providing encouragement and immediate feedback, ignoring the behavior and providing natural and logical consequences are also intervention techniques discussed by Dr. DeMeo. I really enjoyed reading the list of variables that affect compliance as well as additional intervention strategies found in Chapter 7.
My favorite chapter in this book is Chapter 8 which describes in detail various creative strategies to deal with challenging behaviors. Dr. DeMeo provides unique ideas such as making your own stress ball, gel bag, weighted stuffed animal and wiggle seats. He also mentions the positive effect having a classroom pet can have on children. I especially appreciated the list of recommended children’s books for a classroom library/book center. Dr. DeMeo also discusses how to use dramatic play, puppets, music and even aromatherapy to address challenging behaviors.
It is also very important to acknowledge behavior effectively in order to combat challenging behaviors. In Chapter 9, Dr. DeMeo provides excellent ways to acknowledge behavior from informally to formally. He details systems such as chart movers (which I have seen as very successful in classrooms), mystery motivators and bucket fillers. It is important to note that as the child’s behavior improves, rewards should be reduced until the child no longer needs them to engage in appropriate behavior.
The last chapter is extremely helpful for educators and Child Study Team members as it focuses on developing intervention plans. Dr. DeMeo discusses various ways to collect behavior data which is critical in developing an effective plan. At the end of the chapter, readers are provided two sample behavior plans and one blank plan that can be copied and used in your own classroom.
Overall, I have found this book to be extremely helpful as an educator and a parent. I recommend anyone who works with children to purchase When Nothing Else Works. It can be found on the Gryphon House website for $29.95 or on amazon.com.