We cannot punish our children into “good,” “acceptable,” or proper behavior.” However, for many of us, we have been conditioned to think that we can. Or even that we should. Let’s talk about behavior and the deeper meaning.
Behavior is often a form of communication for our children to be seen and heard by us, their parents.
We spend much of our day communicating. We often communicate through nonverbals, such as our behaviors and actions. Sometimes we may not even be aware of the fact that we are communicating.
When you think about your children’s behavior as a form of communication rather than a mechanism to limit & control, does it shift your perspective?
We must not look at just the behavior itself, but rather what it is trying to communicate with us. We must dig deeper to gain an understanding of what our children are feeling or trying to express. This goes for all communication—the facial expressions, gestures, arms folded across the chest, body language, etc. These are all signals playing a part in the communication process.
We all communicate through our behavior on a daily basis.
When our kids throw tantrums and scream and yell, perhaps they either cannot find the words to express their inner feelings or do not want to share. It is our job as investigators to look beyond behavior and ask ourselves what it is our child is actually experiencing or trying to express.
Like an iceberg, the mass beneath the surface is often where the child’s behavior is stemming from. It is something deeper that we cannot see clearly. It could be a basic human need; safety, security, feeling valued and worthy, feeling loved, or rather something that is causing anger, frustration, sadness, lack of competency, or even nutrition and hunger. The list can go on and on.
When children are “acting out” or behaving in a way we think is unacceptable, they are likely communicating from the subconscious. 90% of what is going on within our children is below the surface. In order to see our child’s needs more clearly, we must look deeply at what is behind the behavior, not fixate on the behavior itself. When we stop at the behavior, we miss out on understanding the child in front of us and their experiences.
Here are a few tips at moving beyond the tip of the iceberg:
- When a child behaves in a way that you do not support, instead of focusing on the behavior itself, shift your mindset to what might be driving the behavior. What is the child trying to communicate? You can also ask the child, depending on their age: “I see you are really upset, come and sit with me and let’s talk about why you threw the lamp on the floor.”
- Greet your child with compassion. If you look at the iceberg, you see a small sample of what could be beyond the tip of the iceberg, aka the behavior. There are so many more circumstances or emotions that you can add to this list. Bring compassion to the situation to help your child navigate, share and grow through these moments. We often do not see the big picture and need their help in understanding what could be bothering them down deep.
- Accept what your child is sharing and validate their feelings. It is not our job to judge if it is right or wrong. These feelings are theirs to share and ours to understand. When we step back and listen to what our child is saying or what we can see, it brings the relationship to a new level of understanding.
- Help your child if they cannot verbalize their own feelings. If you think you know what might be going on, perhaps share a story that is related. This can help your child feel safe or normalize the experience or emotion. For example, the child who now has a baby brother or sister may love their sibling but also resent the fact that the sibling takes your time away from them. Drawing attention to how hard this might be is a good way to help them move forward and feel understood.
- And of course, if you could use some support in trying to discern what might be beneath the behavior iceberg with your children, please reach out to me. I am always happy to help.
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Conscious Parents, Thriving Kids
**The attached “Iceberg” is from Kelly Bartlett