Understanding your Child’s Behaviour

Understanding your Child’s Behaviour

What does my child’s behaviour mean?

Understanding what motivates other people’s behaviour can be difficult, and this is even more the case when it comes to children. Trying to make seen of what causes or motivates your child’s behaviour can leave you feeling confused, frustrated, and oftentimes overwhelmed.  Many factors contribute to this, including the basic gap in vocabulary and articulacy! However one contributing factor is that as adults, we see tend to see behaviour as intentional and as a result, can be reactive to our children’s behaviour.

With children, however, it can be helpful to shift the mindset away from thinking that the behaviour is intentional i.e. that they are being naughty on purpose. Instead, it helps to see behaviour as a form of communication. It allows us to start to think in terms of ‘what is happening for my child?’ and ‘what need is my child trying to get met?’, rather than the less helpful ‘how can I get them to stop misbehaving?!’

As children grow, they explore and gradually develop ways to best to meet their needs. As a result, they might try out different behaviours to do this, and are likely to repeat those behaviours that get their needs met. To identify the most helpful ways of doing so,  your children need connection and support from the adults around them, particularly from you: their parents.

How can I support my child?

Evidence shows that whilst negative consequences may feel like the right thing to do, the most effective way to promote skills and learning is through a strong and safe relationship with your child. This helps you feel more connected and better able to read and understand your child’s behavioural communication which in turn creates a calm environment for your child to communicate effectively without distress.

One way to do this, is through the P.A.C.E. model of parenting, developed by Dr. Daniel Hughes:

      • Playfulness: 

Playfulness is about creating a space of fun and lightness when you engage and communicate with your child. It isn’t about not taking things seriously, but is about providing boundaries and guidance in a light and gentle way. For example, using a light and kind tone of voice when reinforcing rules, using humour or fun, being willing to laugh at yourself and your mistakes, and allowing yourself to be spontaneous and playful with your children.

      • Acceptance: 

Unconditional love and acceptance are important parts of creating safety for your child. It is about putting boundaries around unwanted behaviour and simultaneously accepting the feelings and emotions behind the behaviour.

It is about seeing and accepting the child and their emotions (“I can see that you are angry and it’s ok for you to be angry at me”) but putting a clear boundary around the appropriacy of how those emotions are expressed (“But it is not ok to hit me”). This separation allows the child to see that whilst the behaviour is not acceptable, they are.

      • Curiosity: 

Curiosity involves developing a sense of wonder about the child’s behaviour, thoughts, feelings and needs, led by open and genuine curiosity. It is about attempting to understand what your child was trying to communicate through the behaviour, and what they might have been experiencing, without judgement.

      • Empathy: 

Empathy is about actively communicating to your child that you care, that their feelings are important, and that you can sit with them through difficult emotions. This is achieved by verbally identifying your own emotions during difficult situations and then reflecting on their own. For example, saying “I can see that you are hurt, and I feel sad that I something I did may have made that sadness happen”. This can help them start to verbally identify their own emotions rather than engage in unhelpful behaviours to communicate them.

The P.A.C.E. model can help children feel safer and more connected with their parent, which in turn will support them to learn to reflect on their thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. Reflection can then aid them in communicating effectively and having their needs met.

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