If you attend a workshop or parenting class, you are likely to hear that children misbehave for four common reasons: attention, power, revenge or inadequacy. Yet, when I ask parents the meanings behind behavior, they often come up with a broader range of reasons children misbehave. Let’s look at the short list:).
Children may misbehave due to:
1. Developmental delays: Children who experience language, motor, social and cognitive delays may misbehave due to developmental challenges.
2. Illness: When we don’t feel well, we often don’t have the skills, patience, calming power, or thinking ability to do the right thing. Neither does your child.
3. Boredom: This is common in school when topics and activities do not stimulate the brain enough to keep it engaged.
4. Frustration and anger: When tasks, people or experiences lead us to frustration or anger, we are unlikely to do the right thing or make a good choice.
5. A need for attention: Most people enjoy attention, but it is normal for children to seek an especially high level of the stimulation and comfort of attention, love and nurturance.
6. Anxiety: Anxiety is simply fear turned on its side. They both come from the same biological brain system, the limbic system. Many times, children misbehave because they are anxious, afraid or both, even if they don’t have the language skills to communicate their concerns or fears. This could be anything from monsters under the bed to a teacher who intimidates them.
7. Low self-esteem: When children do not regard themselves very highly, part of them figures, “Who cares. Whatever. Things are no good for me now so why should I comply?” (Be aware that children can experience true depression, in which case you may wish to consult with a professional.)
8. Misunderstanding: Sometimes children misunderstand what is expected of them. This can be due to communication, listening or attention challenges.
9. Pacing problems: The internal motor of some children runs too high, making their internal pacing and speed difficult to manage themselves.
10. Communication challenges: Due to receptive and/or expressive language issues, some children do not have the foundational communication skills to exhibit appropriate behaviors.
11. Sabotage: While parents are generally well meaning, they can mis-communicate with their children, expect skills beyond the child’s ability, or interfere with learning because of their own anger and skill deficits. (See “Unintentional Sabotage,” on p. 115.)
12. Sensory overload: Some children experience overloads to their nervous system that lead to acting up and acting out. Sensory calming skills need to be employed.
One method for stepping back and collecting data before you form an opinion or intervene is to ask yourself: “What is the meaning of the behavior?” “What underlies this behavior?” “Why is it occurring?” and “What factors are reinforcing this behavior?” This is where your detective skills come in handy.
Find the who, what, when, where and hows in The Family Coach Method.