Finding Meaning in Your Child’s Behavior

Green Family

Behavior Needs to Be Understood

Finding meaning in your child’s behavior is essential to understanding your child. Behind every “bad” child is a distressed child. Behavior is meaningful. But look up “bad behavior” on google and you get hundreds of sites with tips trying to correct it but not understand it. How do you correct what you don’t understand?

Behavior Helps You Understand What is In Your Child’s Mind

Temper tantrums, undone homework, missed curfews, and disrespectful chatter are communications, most often to parents. The medium is the message. When parents learn to read behavior instead of trying to correct it, punish it, or justify other “acceptable” consequences, they can find that listening to it as a “tell” leads to improved problem solving and enhanced mother-child relationships. The art of parenting is filling in the blanks as to what’s happening in a child’s mind. Behavior is the way in.


Parent Self-Esteem

Think of who you want to be as a parent. Key to parental self-esteem is going all out as a good listener. It may be counter-intuitive not to immediately react to the personal assault that misbehavior often feels like, but thinking before reacting goes a long way. Behind each misbehavior is a child who wishes to be heard. The misbehavior contains the request.


Smart Kids Have a Lot to Say

There’s a great deal of research being done these days on what makes smart kids, the outliers of the future. A great deal of controversy abounds from inception to graduation about how to educate our children. Homeschooling, charter schooling, public schooling, daily tutoring, intense academics, winning athletics, but what about what kids already know but don’t know how to tell?

Sometimes smartness comes from within not without. Kids just don’t know how to organize and tell what they know, so they demonstrate, sometimes wildly. Then listening, as scary as it is compared to acting in return, is the bottom line about what really matters to help them grow and absorb what’s around them.


Temper Tantrums: How to Understand Them

Let’s look at temper tantrums that all parents agree are embarrassing, sometimes persecuting, unmanageable, impossible to find the right remedy for, explosive and scary to witness. There can be multiple reactions to this loss of impulse control but what if it’s actually meaningful?

Depending on the child, he is generally telling you by his actions he has internal stressors. He’s showing how disorganized he feels inside, how difficult it is to make the simplest decision, how all sights and sounds feel exaggerated, and how panicked he feels. It’s like a mini-breakdown of internal resources.

If there are external stressors, which is often the case, the child is at a loss to speak of how intolerable they are, how alone he feels, and how unable to spell out how incapable he is of tolerating what feels like enormous frustrations. How can we isolate, be angry at, punish this troubled child? The child needs to know we’re in it with him and not going anywhere.


Behavior Shows What the Child Wants to Tell

Think of behavior as performance art that took a long time in the making. It shows what it wants to tell. Poor behavior especially when it’s dramatic archives a history of troubling inner experiences that just won’t disappear. Your child is finally putting his or her cards on the table. Internal becomes external. What’s been tossing around in the child’s mind finally comes tumbling out and like most confusing things, it comes out in a fumbling, disturbing, disorganized, hard-to-bear, manner. The more it socks you in the stomach, the more troubled it makes you feel, the more you’re being asked to listen to it. So, listen. Help your child find his or her words. Humbly.

Laurie Hollman, Ph.D. is a psychoanalyst who helps parents find meaning in the behaviors of their infants, children, & adolescents so overarching problems masked by these behaviors are identified and resolved.