Whether it’s your child, your puppy, or your spouse, behavior is always a verb, according to Dr. Sheryl Kaufman, aka “Dr. K,” retired principal and founder of Educational Journeys, LLC. “Behavior is communication. It’s how you handle things,” she said. “Life is all about behavior. Whether it is positive or negative, you are communicating something.”
Kaufman, who holds multiple degrees and certifications, including a doctorate in educational leadership, has run the gamut in the education field, holding a variety of teaching positions serving special needs children, including learning disabled, emotionally disturbed/behaviorally challenged, autistic and cognitively impaired. In addition, she served as principal of Park Lake School in New Jersey from 1996-2011 before moving to Hilton Head Island.
With over 40 years of experience, today, Kaufman works locally as an educational consultant. While her primary interest is special needs children, and more specifically children on the autism spectrum, her guidance is practical for anyone wishing to improve the dynamics of family living.
“Everybody deals with behavior. The goal is not to manipulate another person but to come to an understanding,” she explained. “With any kind of behavior, it’s communicating.”
A self-described “out-of-the-box” thinker, early in her career, Kaufman refused to paddle children for misbehavior in school. “If I need a paddle, then I can’t handle my class. And, if you don’t have behavior under control, learning is not going to happen,” she said.
Seeking a better way of achieving desired outcomes, Kaufman has since designed a proprietary behavior model, a multi-step approach which helps frame the way she works with children and their families.
“Behavior management begins with boundaries, which includes setting limits, building structure, setting expectations, recognizing cause and effect, and reorganizing external circumstances that impact your situation,” she said. She spoke of the importance of environment and suggested simple adjustments that can happen in the home to help reduce stress and produce behaviors more conducive to learning. Something as basic as designating a place for personal items like back packs (it can be a cardboard box you let the child decorate) and defining individual workspace (a desk of his or her own) can make a significant difference, she explained.
Clients will tell you that Kaufman is like the Pied Piper when it comes to motivating children to do what she asks. Perhaps the magic is in the way she frames behavioral outcomes as a choice rather than attaching them to the threat of punishment. “There are positive and negative consequences, and children learn that good behavior has its own rewards,” she said.
She also applies strategic systems for calming children and restoring focus. “When a child is overstimulated, it can turn into an undesirable behavior. You have to be quick on your feet to solve the issue,” she said. “Once people get elevated [and this applies to everyone, adults included, she pointed out], you have to wait until things calm down—then you go back and visit it. People make a mistake trying to calm somebody down when they are in the middle of meltdown. I might ask, ‘Do you need space?’ I don’t like to call it time out because that gets associated with punishment. I tell them to go to their safe place and chill.”
In addition to “time out,” Kaufman is not a fan of the term “inside voice.” Pointing out that people raise their voices and sometimes shout indoors, she’s had greater success asking children who struggle with volume control to practice whispering.
“In behavior, you have to assess everything. It’s problem solving,” she said.
While Kaufman has developed an array of tools based on her education and years of experience, she will be the first to tell you that what is effective with one child or in one situation may not be the right approach in every instance. She likes to empower families, teachers and caretakers to discover what works for them. She suggests the following guidelines with a healthy dose of trusting your gut:
- Set goals that are attainable.
- Be consistent so the child knows what is expected.
- Keep language short and concise: “If this, then that.”
- Don’t let your emotions take over. Be patient and calm.
- Distinguish between asking and telling. If you’re asking someone to do something and they say no, you can’t get upset about it. But if I’m telling the child to go make his bed, that’s not a choice.
- If you give choices, respect what your child chooses. Make sure when you give children a choice that you are going to be okay with whichever choice they make.
- Make your motivator something that will entice your child. It’s about his/her needs and wants, not yours.
For more information and additional resources, follow Educational Journeys, LLC on Facebook.
Autism is the fastest growing developmental disorder in the United States. Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication affecting brain development. According to the Centers for Disease Control, autism affects an estimated 1 in 54 children in the United States today. Early recognition, as well as behavioral, educational, and family therapies may reduce symptoms and support development and learning.
“For those who do not know much about autism, this isn’t a population of loners who don’t like being touched and who ignore others. In fact, that couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s a population comprised of individuals desperately seeking a common ground they are familiar with that they may use to interact with others,” Emily Scheinert wrote. (A Teacher’s View: The Beauty of Autism, Autism Parenting Magazine)
Local educational consultant Sheryl Kaufman concurs. “With autism, if they don’t have the language, they are going to do something to get your attention,” she said. “Kids with autism often don’t have a filter. If society understood how to deal with some of the behaviors, it would take a lot of the stress off the families. Remember they are kids first, special needs second. They deserve respect.”
April is Autism Acceptance Month as families and organizations work together to celebrate differences. Local non-profit Lowcountry Autism Foundation (LAF) will be hosting its annual Ales for Autism golf tournament and fundraiser on April 23 (see details in our This and That section) LAF offers free programs and resources to area families from the time they suspect their child may have autism, through the diagnosis and throughout their lives. Learn more at lafinc.org. and be sure to follow on Facebook and Instagram.