Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Children can learn to control their behavior

Sirjulius Swain has been a handful for his mother, Dennise Wallace, from the start. The word “no” could send him into a rage. Wallace turned to a Pinellas agency that helps families deal with young children’s emotional and behavioral issues, and says it has made a big difference. “It’s a true blessing how far he’s come,” she says.

CHERIE DIEZ | Times

Sirjulius Swain has been a handful for his mother, Dennise Wallace, from the start. The word “no” could send him into a rage. Wallace turned to a Pinellas agency that helps families deal with young children’s emotional and behavioral issues, and says it has made a big difference. “It’s a true blessing how far he’s come,” she says.

Before she had her fifth child, Dennise Wallace thought she knew everything there was to know about parenting.

Her baby, Sirjulius Swain, would soon prove otherwise.

As a toddler, the word "no" could throw Sirjulius into a fit of head-banging, sibling-punching, object-throwing rage.

The violent and defiant conduct continued at a Head Start preschool program as he cursed teachers and hit classmates.

The little boy even knew how to break a heart, such as the time he told his mother to leave him at the grocery store.

"You're not my real mommy," he told her. "Leave me and I'll find my own mommy."

"I cried and cried," said Wallace, 34, a certified nursing assistant from St. Petersburg. "I was ready to pull my hair out. It was causing a tremendous amount of stress for the whole family."

Still, she treasured his sweet side, his outgoing personality and his intellect. Even at his worst, she always has had high hopes for her child.

"I just needed to find a way to turn things around," she said.

She sought the help of Coordinated Child Care of Pinellas Inc., a nonprofit corporation that provides child care scholarships, resources and supportive services for families with young children.

One of their programs, Project Challenge, is geared toward preschoolers like Sirjulius who have emotional and behavioral challenges. Funded by the Juvenile Welfare Board, it was developed in 1984 because children were being expelled from child care settings because of behavior issues.

Spokeswoman Lisa Hughes said the goal is to provide children, their parents and child care providers with positive strategies so the little ones can experience success in school, home or other environments.

Reaching children early is crucial.

"Between birth and age 3, a child's brain grows at a phenomenal rate. Neurons are making connections that will serve as the basis for how they function in the world for the rest of their lives," she said. "The earlier you address the social and emotional concerns, the easier it is to change the behavior."

Liz Dixon is the child and family consultant who has worked with Sirjulius, who is now 5, for two years.

"He's doing good," she said. "He has switched schools and his behavior has improved tremendously."

She began by using "feeling faces," flash cards depicting a variety of facial expressions. They helped Sirjulius recognize what was brewing inside him, like anger, frustration or embarrassment.

"He learned that it was okay to have those emotions, but that it was not all right to take it out on others," she said.

Sirjulius can now handle his emotions by using the calming techniques he has learned, like deep breathing, singing or marching around a room.

Or he may go find the ball he squeezes when he feels like lashing out.

Dixon also worked with his mother, teaching her how to minimize using the word "no'' and other negative commands.

"Instead of saying 'Don't run,' we say, 'Let's use our walking feet,' " Dixon said. "You give the child an alternative to the unwanted behavior."

Dixon also provided teachers with colorful books containing positive messages to read in the classroom.

Wallace said the early intervention has paid off, with much more harmony among the five siblings, ages 5 to 15.

"We do have our trials and tribulations, but now we have the tools necessary to deal with them," she said.

"It's a process and he's not perfect, but it's a true blessing how far he's come."

She wants parents to know there is help — and hope — out there.

"Whatever you do,'' she said, "don't ever give up on your child."

Terri Bryce Reeves can be reached at treeves@tampabay.rr.com

For more on Project Challenge and other early childhood programs, call (727) 547-4280 or visit www.childcarepinellas.org

Children can learn to control their behavior 10/23/09 [Last modified: Friday, October 23, 2009 4:30am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Cannon Fodder podcast: Bucs could run into their nemesis

    Bucs

    Greg Auman finishes wrapping up the Bucs' win against the Chicago Bears and looks ahead to Sunday's game at Minnesota, where Tampa Bay could run into nemesis Case Keenum, in our latest Cannon Fodder …

    Bucs outside linebacker Lavonte David (54) sacks Los Angeles Rams quarterback Case Keenum (17) during a 2016 game. [WILL VRAGOVIC   |   Times]
  2. How to vamp out for Buffyfest in St. Petersburg

    Music & Concerts

    Who's your favorite superhero? I always answer Buffy.

    Photo illustration RON BORRESEN, Photo by Warner Brothers, Photo by SCOTT KEELER   |   Times
Members of the Florida Bjorkestra rehearse, Monday, 3/13/17, at the Palladium Theater, St. Petersburg for their upcoming concert. In the foreground is percussionist Joe Coyle.

Sarah Michelle Gellar
  3. The Mill restaurants offering half off when customers donate items for hurricane relief

    Blogs

    The Mill restaurant in St. Petersburg and its newly-opened location in Brandon are collecting donations to help residents of the Florida Keys who've been affected by Hurricane Irma.

    The dining room at The Mill in St. Petersburg photographed in 2015.
  4. Navy removes Jacksonville hospital workers who called babies 'mini satans' (w/video)

    Health

    JACKSONVILLE — A Navy hospital in Florida has removed some employees from patient care after Snapchat photos showed a nurse giving the middle finger to a newborn with a caption that said, "How I currently feel about these mini Satans."

    A Navy hospital in Florida has removed some employees from patient care after Snapchat photos showed a nurse giving the middle finger to a newborn with a caption that said, "How I currently feel about these mini Satans." [Photo from video]
  5. USF boasts a diverse, record-breaking class of new students

    Blogs

    TAMPA – Another year, another record-breaking freshman class for the University of South Florida.

    Student Nick Russin talks to incoming students during a tour of the Marshall Student Center on USF’s Tampa campus.