When my firstborn son was three, he began acting defiant and out of sorts. What I saw then as a call for discipline I soon learned was a call for connection. He was telling me, through his actions, that he was feeling bad inside. More recently, when he began coming straight home from middle school and going to his room, I immediately knew he was communicating something to me. What many disregard as tween attitude is really a call for help. My boy was overwhelmed with new teachers, a new schedule, and the social pressures of middle school. He was anxious, worried, and feeling less confident. Had I not recognized his behavior as a signal, I would have likely made things worse by remarking on his withdrawal and attitude.
Behavior is always communication. Parents are often quick to judge whether that behavior warrants a punishment, but when we pause to listen to what the behavior is saying about our child’s feelings and experience, a whole new world opens up to us and our children. Our approach as mom or dad stops being about controlling or managing behavior and becomes about helping our children see the good in themselves, learn to cope with the ups and downs of life, and guiding them back to their best self as they grow and mature.
If your child’s behavior has suddenly taken a turn for the worse, or if you’ve been struggling a recurring problem behavior for a while now, use these three questions to get to the heart of what is going on with your child so that you can move beyond dishing out an unhelpful punishment and really help your little one get back on track.
Has anything changed in my child’s world recently?
Is there a new sibling? A move? A change in schools or teachers or friendships? Has there been a loss in the family? Is your child dealing with new fears or big worries?
These changes, from major losses to minor adjustments, can throw kids off balance. Plus, children naturally develop new worries and fears as they mature and become more aware. If your child is suddenly clingy, whiny, fearful, or withdrawn, look for a change in her world that’s caused her stress.
How to help: Your child will need help adjusting to the new addition or environment. It’s important that you remain positive and upbeat about a new sibling or school because he will pick up on your anxieties as well. If your child is dealing with specific fears, know that dismissing them as silly won’t make them go away or help your child feel any better. Read my article 3 Ways to Help Anxious Children.
Is my child’s environment peaceful or chaotic?
Think about your child’s relationships with you, your partner, siblings, and friends. Think about your home environment, both physical and emotional. Is it cluttered or in order? Is there constant discord or a feeling of harmony? Is your child over scheduled or is there space for rest? Both physical and emotional chaos can cause chaotic behavior. If your child’s outer world reflects peace and tranquility, the inner world will follow suit.
How to help: Create beautiful, simple, orderly rooms. Develop a good toy rotation system to reduce clutter. Give your child predictability and structure with peaceful routines. Work toward positive relationships between siblings and parents by learning positive communication and conflict resolution skills.
What have I been focusing on and pointing out to my child?
When kids hear over and over again about how naughty, difficult, or “too much” they are, they internalize this message and act in ways that live up to the role they’ve come to accept as who they are. Remember that where focus goes, energy flows.
How to help: If you want to see positive behavior, notice and point out positive things about your child. Stop voicing the problem and start voicing a solution. Say what you want to see rather than what you don’t want, and be mindful to be your child’s light reflector. The more you point out and affirm the good in her, the more she will see herself as good, and her behavior will reflect her positive self-concept.
*This article was originally posted at Creative Child.
View all of the articles I’ve written for Creative Child Magazine here.