Childhood is FULL of messy behaviors and big emotions! Meltdowns. Hitting. Screaming. Pouting. Pushing. Crying.
Our kids’ behavior can be confusing, frustrating and a lot to manage! Often times our child’s difficult behaviors push us apart from one another and turn us into adversaries when what we desperately want is peace and connection.
I want to share with you how your child’s behavior can become a window into their needs and emotions, and walk you through my 5 steps to becoming a behavior detective.
But first, I want to give you some child development background so that you will know how to implement those 5 steps.
It is through our child’s behavior that we come to know their needs and emotions.
At the beginning of our child’s life, it’s easy for us to remember that their behavior is sending us important messages about what they need and how they are feeling. We learn to read their facial expressions, tell the difference between their cries, and anticipate their needs.
We do all this not because they have told us these things, but because we have paid attention and are looking underneath their behavior.
As our infants turn into toddlers, they gain some words, but for the most part, they are still relying upon behavior to communicate to their caregivers that they are tired, hungry, scared or angry. As our children grow older, it can be easy to forget that they are still sending us important messages through their behavior.
Then we see our child having a meltdown and our sole focus turns to stopping the meltdown, versus seeking to understand what the meltdown is about and how we might be their guide through this difficult moment.
Though this may “work” in the moment (we have stopped the meltdown), it gradually begins to erode the relationship as children feel unseen and alone in their problems and emotions. It also means that we miss out on critical moments to mentor and teach our children how to express and experience their emotions in a healthy way.
When parents become curious about the needs and emotions underlying their child’s behavior, they are cultivating a relationship that is rich in trust, connection and respect. These are the building blocks for development that all children rely upon to grow and flourish.
5 Steps to Become a Behavior Detective:
Step 1: Stop, take a deep breath, relax your shoulders, and repeat this mantra, “My child is doing the best they can to communicate their needs and emotions to me. They need my help right now. We are on the same team.”
Step 2: Identify if any of the following 6 common triggers for difficult behavior may be at play:
1. Tiredness and hunger
2. Still developing brain (our children’s brains are still growing!!)
3. Unmet psychological/relational needs
4. Intense emotions
5. Parental stress
6. A parenting style that is harsh, punitive and threatening (reference: Nicholson & Parker, Attached at the Heart, p175)
Step 3: Ask yourself, “Is my parenting style hard, punitive, or threatening?”
Step 4: Move to meet the underlying need, walk your child through the underlying emotion, and/or adjust the situation for the next time.
Step 5: Review the situation at the end of the day and keep a log of significant behaviors and any of the triggers that may be at play. Over time, you will see a pattern developing that will empower you to understand what their behavior is about and so that you can provide the support that your child needs in order to grow and mature.
Sign up for our newsletter and get a download of my 10 Questions to Consider as a Behavior Detective for a more comprehensive exploration of some of the factors that may be influencing your child’s behavior.
Child & Family Therapist | MA
I work with parents and children to build bridges and lasting connections so that your family can continue to grow, play and explore together.
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