‘Whaaaat?’ I hear you shout, ‘No way!’ Well, it’s true and I’m going to tell you why. Children (like adults) are continually trying to meet their needs. Their behaviour is what they say or do, in response to a need being met (or not). Imagine two children waiting to be chosen by someone, to be part of a team. What do you see and hear from the child who gets chosen? How about the child who is left standing alone? Both are communicating through their behaviour and you will see and hear it being expressed. One child’s need (to belong) is met and the other is not.
Needfulness, not badfulness
Here’s another example, your child starts at nursery and their behaviour changes – what you see and hear may include tantrums, clingy behaviour and disturbed sleep. This is challenging for you but if you stand in your child’s shoes, what do you think they might be trying to tell you? “I’m scared of this new place and people – I want to stay at home with you.” A powerful need for children is Safety and Security; going to a new nursery can mean this need is not being met. Your child is displaying needfulness – NOT badfulness.
All behaviour is communication
The truth is that all behaviour is communication; and recognising this is important. It can encourage us to look beyond the behaviour and try to understand what the message behind it is. Listening to our children is the key skill here, specifically Active Listening.
Acceptable to you?
Do you have to accept all behaviour from your children, simply because they are communicating a need? No, definitely not. Every child will exhibit two kinds of behaviour – behaviours that are acceptable to you and behaviours that are not. It’s worth remembering that this will change depending on how you feel and where you are. We all know that what happens around the kitchen table at home is very different to what we expect from our children in a restaurant – or at Grandma’s house. And I know that I’m OK about my kids shouting and laughing during the day – at 3 o’clock in the morning, no. Their behaviour hasn’t changed from ‘good’ to ‘bad’ – what has changed is my line of acceptance.
Replace consistency with flexibility
My line of acceptance is different to my husband’s. Behaviour that I think is OK for our children might not be OK with him. We are not on the same page because we can’t be – we’re different people. This, and our moving lines of acceptance, throw into question the parenting myths that say we must be consistent with our children and form a united front with each other. We aren’t and we don’t. This doesn’t mean our house is chaotic, rather it means that we are free to be ourselves as we build our own unique relationships with our children. We replace consistency with flexibility, use shared values to guide us and commit to supporting each other when needed (‘I’m Ok with that, but Dad isn’t. Is there a way you can do this that makes it OK for Dad?)
Be ourselves and be part of a family
By recognising there is no such thing as bad behaviour, parents can approach situations with an open mind. We can listen to our children to find out what needs are being met or not. We know it’s OK to challenge our children with behaviour we find unacceptable, behaviours that may be interfering with our needs. We can find creative ways to solve problems and resolve conflicts, so that everyone’s needs are met. We can be ourselves AND be part of a family.
Andrea Rippon is a Certified Parent Educator and a mum of two teenagers. She helps parents build strong, long-term relationships with their children (toddlers to teenagers) by using evidence-based communication skills. Her next Open Programme starts in April, 2018. She can also offer Parent Coaching by Skype. If you’ve got a question for her, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
This article was previously published in the Family Section, Eastern Daily Press on Friday, 2 February, 2018