Understanding the WHY Behind Behaviors

Understanding the WHY Behind Behaviors

Behaviors Meet Needs

People learn how to live in their environment. Current behaviors can be viewed as a way to get a need met. Instead of spending time labeling the child as “bad”, as adults we can ask the question… What need was this behavior trying to meet?

Common needs that behaviors meet:
• Attention
• Distraction from uncomfortable situations/feelings
• Asking for help
• Connection with others
• Getting basic needs met (food, shelter, clothing)

People sometimes learn to meet their needs through inappropriate behaviors. For example, by lying, stealing, throwing things, fighting etc. Once we can identify what the child actually needs then we can help them learn new behaviors.

As adults we must operate under the assumption that children are doing the best they can in that moment. We must acknowledge that we have the power; we never need to engage in power struggles with our kids. Parents must also take the responsibility and initiative to model appropriate behaviors to children first.

Experiences Shape Kid’s Behaviors

People, especially children, seek to understand “why did this happen.” When children have had negative experiences they may begin to develop the belief that “bad things happen because of me,” “Nothing I do will make any difference,” “In any situation, the worst will happen.”

Ultimately, we want to help our children have positive experiences and believe that they are capable of being healthy and successful individuals.

When We Identify the Need, We Can Collaboratively Find the Solution

When we begin to understand our children’s underlying needs, it allows us to work with them to find a better solution, rather than working against them. Working with the child to identify the need and discuss possible solutions will empower the child as well as help them develop their own decision making abilities.

Learning Never Happens During Escalation

The brain is incapable of taking in new information and processing it while it is emotionally escalated. If a situation occurs in which the emotions of the child (or parent) have been heightened, the best course of action is to provide enough supervision to maintain safety, but not intervene unless necessary to keep the child safe.

Validation is one of the fundamental ways of deescalating a situation. When someone is upset, saying “wow, I can see you’re really frustrated” goes much further in calming a situation down than “If you punch a hole in the wall, I’ll call the police.” You don’t need to agree with the person to express validation for their feelings.

Once the situation is calmed down, then discussing consequences and better solutions is appropriate. The goal of discipline is to help teach skills needed to handle the situation better in the future. Consequences should have a direct connection to the negative behavior, should be proportional to the behavior, and should include a skill-building component as well as a relationship repairing component.

Once a situation is deescalated and discussions about consequences have been resolved, the parent-child relationship needs to be repaired. Reminding the child that you love them, you want the best for them, and always think the best of them despite their behaviors.

Parents Need Support

Parenting is difficult and there is rarely a break. It is important to identify your own needs and take time to care for yourself. In the same way that flight attendants require you put on your air mask before you assist your child, you need to take care of yourself so you can be helpful for your child. Identify people you can reach out to, develop a strategy with your partners to ‘tag-team’ when you’re becoming worn out, carve out time to participate in whatever self-care activities are most helpful for you.

Check out the CEDARS Collaborative Plan Worksheet, developed by our staff to be filled out by children and guardians working collaboratively to address behaviors and find solutions.