By: Lindsey Brady, LMFT
As a Marriage and Family Therapist who specializes in children and teens, families often come to see me wanting help with specific behaviors that are happening in the home, at school, or in the community. Without the verbal understanding that adults have, children often resort to tantrums, crying, screaming, and yelling much to the frustration of most parents. It is important to remember that this behavior often serves a purpose for the child. It can communicate things that children are either unable to say or things they may not even be aware of on a conscious level. These are the five common needs that are communicated through behavior:
1. The need to connect - Listen, I get it! Life gets busy and responsibilities get in the way. Not to mention, dealing with negative behaviors doesn’t make it easy to slow down and connect, but this is a fundamental need that children have on a daily basis. Find at least 30 minutes each day to dedicate to your child. Family game nights, art activities, family outings, etc. all allow face-to-face time with each other to improve positive connections and positive relationships. Children are more willing to comply and behave in appropriate ways once they feel connected! And once they feel connected, they will be less likely to engage in negative behaviors.
2. The need for autonomy – This is a tough one for all parents. Children have a need to make their own decisions, which includes making their own mistakes. It’s hard to sit back and watch, knowing that your child may fail, but it’s vital that they be allowed to try. This develops courage, sense of self, and creates a supportive, loving relationship between parent and child.
3. The need to differentiate – Children are naturally curious and have a need to explore different opinions, beliefs, and values. Being free to be curious and create an identity without shame fosters loving, healthy relationships. This is a difficult need to balance, especially when teaching right and wrong is one of our duties as a parent. It is important to examine our own values and if there may be any motives behind wanting a child to be a certain way. This can allow parents to release expectations and allow children the space they need to grow into healthy, independent individuals.
4. The need for emotional comfort – Children have big emotions and equally big reactions. It is important to remember that young children are not able to regulate themselves and sometimes need extra support. Explain to children that ALL feelings are always okay and that they don’t need to hide them or suppress them. I like to teach children that feelings are like waves, if you don’t fight them - they pass. If you do fight them, they can pull you under. Extra hugs, love, and kindness help children to overcome and learn to self-soothe. If behavior is inappropriate, it’s okay to lovingly disengage until children calm down and then provide love and support and offer suggestions for how to handle feelings differently next time.
5. The need to feel respected and valued - When children are non-compliant and refusing to follow instructions, it is easy for parents to react with anger. The number one way that children learn from us is through modeling. If we model respectful and kind behavior, our children will respond and learn in the same manner. Remaining calm through challenges is not always easy, so don’t be afraid to take a break and address things later if you need to.
Next time your child is engaging in a behavior remember that they might be communicating a need and being aware of this is the first step towards helping your child to engage in more positive behaviors.
If you’d like to speak with someone regarding how to better understand and modify a child’s behavior, you can reach a Thrive Therapist at 858-342-1304.
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As always, thanks for reading and comments are always welcome. Contact us regarding any issues around child, teen psychotherapy and adult San Diego psychologist at Thrive Therapy Studio.
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