Creative Child

Behavior is Communication – Are You Listening?

by Rebecca Eanes

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 If your child is suddenly clingy, whiny, fearful, or withdrawn, look for a change in her world that’s caused her stress.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.

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