If behaviour is communication… why does it sometimes seem like another language?!

Terrible Two’s…


Frustration at not communicating…

Attention Seeking

New Sibling…

Too Many Transitions…

Growth Spurt…

Sleep Deprivation…

Hungry… limited diet…

Testosterone Surge…

Bored & ‘Ready for School…’

ADHD, SPD, ODD, PDA, ADD, ASD… The list goes on!

Ever get utterly bewildered by all of the underlying causes for adverse behaviour?!

We know it’s true – behaviour really IS communication. However, sometimes, instead of wondering what a little person is trying to tell us, we need to learn their language and find out what they aren’t ABLE to tell us.

This is not to undermine any of the above factors, which most certainly affect how a child behaves – (or rather, responds to a person, event, emotion); what it does mean, is that because of any one (or more) of those factors, this little person is UNABLE to respond in the way which we expect.

Let’s think about that for a moment… the way in which WE expect.

Why is this little human not behaving in the way I would expect them to? Why have they reacted in that way?

Here comes another complication – culture


Cause and effect. Punish and reward. Positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement. Maslow’s Monkeys, Pavlov’s Dogs and Skinner’s Rats circa 1950.

Our parenting (and educating), is most strongly influenced by our own childhood experiences, along with expectations and kindly advice from those around us. Based upon what has happened to us or those before us.

Spot the problem?

If we educate and nurture in a way which has worked for someone else (or ourselves), then we expect the same response. If not the first time, then persevere, remain consistent, keep the boundaries.

As Einstein proclaimed “the definition of insanity, is doing the same thing over and over while hoping for different results”.

What if children sometimes lack the skills to cope with a situation, and so react adversely to it?

And what does ‘react adversely’ look like?

As anyone who has taken a small child shopping will tell you…

Kicking, screaming, biting, yelling, pushing, crying, scratching, withdrawing, pacing, growling… generally speaking, emotions are taking over their physical response to the world and those around them.

The child puts up resistance, so we put up resistance…


So how do we change this behaviour to something more ‘manageable’ or ‘pleasing’ or ‘acceptable’...?

Does this mean we have a softly, softly approach?

Will this mean my child will push my boundaries constantly to get their own way?

Do I have to give in because they won’t?

I’m trying to help my little one learn right from wrong… Will this make my child entitled?

I can't just ignore ALL the bad behaviour?

Let’s take things back to the most simplest part. It doesn’t matter WHAT is underlying the behaviour.

Children are not born naughty. Children want to do well. There is no explanation as to why a child would consistently seek adverse or negative responses from adults (or anyone else for that matter), if they knew how to get a positive experience. Infants brains (of all species) are hard-wired to seek positive and nurturing responses from caregivers – this is how the brain grows!

We know he/she is able to tell us when they don’t want to do something, why are they so unwilling to compromise?

Well, perhaps they can’t? Instead of considering this behavioural response as an ‘unwillingness’, maybe view it as an ‘inability’.

That’s not to say they can’t do it. It is to say they can’t do it yet.

Reframe the behaviour. Become a detective. What skills could be lacking, which would hinder your child from moving swiftly from one activity to another, or allow another child near their play without a big reaction?

There are a myriad of reasons why this may be the case. All very valid. However, justifying the reasons doesn’t help the situation change.

The best way to deescalate a situation before it arises, is to empathise. The emotions aren't the problem. We aren't expecting children not to feel. Name the big, tricky emotions and show the facial expressions and body language associated.

“I understand – you’re cross. You don’t want ………”

“You don’t like shopping! You feel fed up”

Role modelling is by far the best way of making a connection - and this is what we're trying to do here. Always try and jump in before the emotion begins to build.

What now? Well to learn a new skill, you need to practise it!

Ask your child “what do you think we could do?”

Justify the reasons for the event. “We need to shop so Milo has his dog food tonight” or “That boy wants to play but you don’t want that boy to play with your dinosaur”. Hereby, the situation hasn’t changed. The world still continues… but we have presented the ‘big problem’ in a way which invites a solution. We’ve given it words and recognised that your child is finding it a problem.

**important consideration: very often, when children are in the throes of emotional takeover, they will find it hard to listen, let alone compromise. In many cases, there is a literal disconnection between the logical brain and the primitive ‘emotional’ brain.**

For this reason, it is helpful to use books or play scenarios to open these conversations at a different time. A time when your child is relaxed. This can act as a reference for occasions when they feel their emotions build. You then act as co-regulator, helping to remind them of their solution.

Some solutions may be quite out there! And some will simply involve a ‘no’. Don’t be tempted to revert to reward/punishment. Persevere gently and talk through each of the solutions until a compromise can be found. Even if it doesn’t seem like the right solution to you – let them try. Skills are tested and honed, never right first time.

We all want the best for our children, it is hard to see failure in action… but remember this is their journey. What we tell them, isn’t what they’ve learnt for themselves. Skills are gained through discovery learning.

Nurture Play are holding a morning workshop on 'Reframing Behaviour' on Tuesday 27th August at The Nurture Shed.

Teachers and Practitioners just £35 and 2nd teacher or parent £25.Refreshments included...

book here


#emotionaldevelopmentparentingbehaviourcoparen #coregulation #selfregulation #positiveparenting #sensoryprocessing #explosivechild

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