Understanding Children's Behaviour (Pt 3 of The Parent Coach Series)
One of the most common challenges for parents is how best to handle negative behaviours. How to deal with a toddler throwing tantrums in public? How to stop siblings from fighting with each other?
One of the most common challenges for parents is how best to handle negative behaviours. How to deal with a toddler throwing tantrums in public? How to stop siblings from fighting with each other? How to get teenagers to spend less time on the computer and more on their studies? Coaching offers new tools for examining our children’s behaviours and discovering new ways to bring about positive changes. Here are three fresh perspectives on behaviour that might possibly transform the way you experience your child.
1. A child is more than his behaviours.
Behaviours are essentially the external manifestation of thoughts and emotions. Apart from their behaviours, children also have beliefs, values, aspirations, desires, passion, interest, fear, concerns, etc. Recognizing that our children are more than their behaviours allows us to see them for who they are, distinct from their external appearances. While we may reject their negative behaviours, it is important that we continue to accept them, especially their thoughts and emotions, even though we might not agree with them.
2. Every behaviour is driven by a positive intention.
Every behaviour is a means for the child to accomplish something, be it consciously or unconsciously. Throwing a tantrum might be an attempt to have their desires heard or to get what they want. Hitting a sibling might be a means to assert one’s personal boundary. Chatting with friends on the computer might be a way to fulfill one’s social needs, which for most teenagers, is clearly of a higher priority compared to studying. From the child’s perspective, all intentions are ‘positive’. However, some of the behaviours employed to fulfill these intentions may have negative consequences (e.g. falling behind their studies and doing badly in examinations). Our challenge is to keep looking deeper beneath what is visible and seek to understand their underlying intentions.
3. Any behaviour is the best choice available to the child at that particular point in time.
Children and teenagers view the world rather differently from adults. Their actions are often limited by the options that they perceive as available to them, within their limited worldview. And from there, they make their best choice which they believe will get them what they want, no matter how ‘silly’ or ‘unacceptable’ those choices may appear to us. A toddler might have been conditioned by his care giver to believe that throwing a tantrum is the only way to get what he wanted. The alternative is to live with his disappointments. However, another child might have discovered that being cute or sensible is a better way to get what he wants.
Our role is to help our children expand their range of options and by doing so, enrich their world and enable them to fulfill their intentions through more positive behaviours. For example, we could ask them with curiosity, “I wonder what else you could do to accomplish that?” In the process, we evoke their creativity and resourcefulness in discovering new ways for fulfilling their desires without getting into trouble.
Children are much more likely to adopt the new behaviours that they come out with themselves, rather than what is prescribed by us or demanded of them. True and enduring change can only come from inside out. As a coach, the key to helping our children make positive changes in their behaviours lies in understanding their underlying intentions and guiding them to explore new choices of actions to fulfill them in a positive manner.