Ways to Handle Avoidance Behavior in Children

by Amber Keefer

    It’s common for children to avoid what they don’t like, especially when they perceive tasks as being difficult, unnecessary or too much for them to handle. Instead of confronting a tough task, they put it off. Unfortunately, avoidance behavior -- whether by procrastination, distraction, escape or other method -- can make a child’s anxieties worse. Distressful events for children are often related to schoolwork, social activities or peer interactions.

    Setting Reasonable Expectations

    Some children avoid taking on challenges when certain tasks look like they’re going to be too difficult to accomplish successfully. By finding ways to get out of a task, a child doesn’t have to worry about performing poorly. He simply avoids performing at all and in this way, protects his self-esteem. When it comes to abilities, parents and teachers must consider that a child might not be able to meet particular expectations, even if those expectations seem reasonable to them. Children can’t always achieve as much as adults expect them to. As a result, a child might respond to the stress of performing by putting up resistance and doing whatever he can to avoid the challenge or task.

    Taking Small Steps

    Praise any improvements your child makes instead of measuring how well she does. Comparing her performance to that of other children can discourage her. Support her in building on her own skills so she achieves success gradually. Even if you have to lower your expectations for a while, this takes the pressure off and allows your child to work up to the task in steps that are within her abilities. Show her how proud you are of what she has achieved.

    Practicing Skills

    KidsHealth.org points out that you can help your child succeed by offering him plenty of opportunities to practice and master new skills. Making mistakes is part of learning, therefore, whenever your child makes a mistake, let him know it’s OK and encourage him to try again. Once your child is able to achieve small successes, he’ll gain confidence in his abilities, which might push him to move on to a bigger challenge.

    Getting Treatment

    In cases where avoidance behavior is severe, a therapist might use cognitive behavioral therapy to help a child confront a fear that causes her to avoid circumstances that bring on anxiety and stress. Behavioral therapy focuses on thoughts and the resulting behavior. A 2009 article published by “Psychology Today” explains that negative thoughts can produce negative reactions. The goal of treatment is to change the way an individual thinks about a circumstance as a way to change her behavior. One technique therapists use is to slowly but consistently exposing a child to the circumstance or task she is avoiding.

    About the Author

    Amber Keefer has more than 25 years of experience working in the fields of human services and health care administration. Writing professionally since 1997, she has written articles covering business and finance, health, fitness, parenting and senior living issues for both print and online publications. Keefer holds a B.A. from Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania and an M.B.A. in health care management from Baker College.

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