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Behavior is Communication
Written by Evon Mucek
Child Development Specialist
A child is feeling frustrated, sad, or scared and sometimes we just want a quick fix to stop the behavior. Sometimes we’re not thinking, and just reacting. And sometimes this leads to yelling, threatening, time outs. Oof! It’s a tough one when everyone feels a bit (or a lot) out of control.
When children are having meltdowns or tantrums they are trying to:
1. Express their needs
2. Communicate their feelings through actions, sounds, and often lack the words to share their feelings
3. Want connection and attention (which we all NEED and deserve)
Start looking at children's’ behavior more as a road map for helping them out, as opposed to a threat to sanity. It's a game changer! Trust that the child is not being difficult on purpose.
We already know about basic needs: hunger, sleep, play, potty…all the physical needs we understand. What can be less-than-obvious are the emotional needs that are important to children:
- The need for love and attachment
- The need to be heard and accepted
- The need for choice and autonomy
Understanding the emotional needs of children has completely changed the parents that I work with. I’ll elaborate. If a child is having a “tantrum” it usually means that something is up and the child is seeking control. The child needs some help. First, look to the physical needs (hungry, tired and so on…). Then, look to the emotional needs:
Love & Connection
Try holding your child, snuggling, or reading a book close to him/her.
Listening & Validation
Look and listen to what your child is feeling/saying and kindly reflect it back to him or her in a way that shows you understand how he or she feels.
Choice & Autonomy
Try offering choice or some control over the situation.
Validating or kindly reflecting back to your child what he/she is saying shows that you are listening and that you care. And being heard by your parents is so very important to a little one. Being heard is important to all of us. Hold your child, reflect back to him/her how they are feeling, and then try to find a way to help them get some control, and problem solve the situation. I have seen it stop tears and tantrums dead in their tracks.
As children get older, encourage them to do this more on their own, to help themselves and advocate more for their needs. This will help them feel safe in expressing their feelings, will help them in naming their feelings, and will help them learn to create a plan to address how they are feeling. It’s actually when feelings go unexpressed that we really have something to worry about. It’s hard enough as a parent. Don’t add extra challenges to yourself. These messy situations, experiences and transitions our children have, are incredible opportunities to foster their self-worth, to build our relationship, to deepen trust. But these are opportunities.
If only we could see every conflict and every issue that’s going wrong as an opportunity for growth. Wouldn’t we all be so much healthier? I certainly can’t say that I am able to do that all the time. But children, they’re so open, they’re so innocent, they’re so heart-on-their-sleeve. They need us to be on their side, and stay on their side, and accept them at their most challenging moments!
is our in-house Behavior Therapist. If you are struggling with staying calm, connected, and clear in your relationship with your child(ren), she is here to provide personalized support.
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