Go Under the Behavior Before You Punish
Calm, consistent structure in your home helps your child to feel secure and know what is expected. Ultimately, this will lead most kids to success in most situations. But even the most predictable routines and responses aren’t always enough. Before you start dishing out punishments, first consider whether your expectations are developmentally-attuned and then… go under the behavior.
Young children are developing abilities to think rationally, to identify their emotions, and to verbally express their thoughts and feelings. Until they develop these skills, kids often express themselves through their behaviors. In addition to providing developmentally-attuned expectations and consequences to children, it’s helpful to “Go Under the Behavior” to identify what need your child is trying to express.
Go Under the Behavior
What do I mean by underlying need? In addition to obvious needs like safety, nourishment, and sleep, all people also have needs for attention, love, and belongingness. When your child is really pushing limits, consider that she may be attempting to get one of these needs met. For example, a child who just had a baby join the family may regress. We’ve all seen kids seek attention by “acting like a baby” or “acting helpless.” Your child’s regressed behavior may be her way of asking for reassurance that she’s still loved. She’ll likely need more support while your family adjusts to a new family member and no amount of punishment will truly address the underlying issue.
While firm limits and structure remain important, once you go under the behavior and identify the need, it’s a lot easier to be empathic. Meeting the needs of your child proactively will also curb “problem” behaviors before they feel out of control. Ultimately, it will free you up more to enjoy your child.
At Intuition Wellness Center we specialize in integrated behavioral health services and wellness programs for children, young adults and families and supporting other like-minded professionals in doing good work. We offer parent education seminars, wellness classes and other supportive services. If you think you would like some extra support, call us. Call 520-333-3320 for a free phone consultation.
Written By: Navneet Lahti, LCSW; Wellness Director, Child & Family Clinician