I snapped a picture of this quote on the wall at the Magellan International School the other day, and posted it on Facebook. A week or so later, it had been shared by 68 people, and viewed by nearly 7000. Obviously, this quote resonates for many of us.
One of the first things I tell most parents that I work with is that behavior is a communication, and that understanding the message in a child’s behavior is incredibly helpful for changing those behaviors. To put it another way, something is behind or underneath unwanted behavior; triggering or motivating or strengthening it. Those hidden drivers are usually unmet needs of some variety. When parents can identify what those unmet needs are, they typically find that those underlying needs are needs they want to support. In other words: the behaviors are unwanted, but the needs driving those behaviors are understandable!
Children who are acting in unloving ways are likely to themselves be feeling unloved, unwanted, not valuable, incapable, powerless, or hurt. (*) The response those children need isn’t greater control, or bigger punishments, they need understanding, compassion, and support for their growth. LOVE.
How should a parent respond to these ‘unloving’ behaviors? That’s a more complicated topic than this blog post can tackle, but here’s a little basic information. A sustainable and effective response will include: staying calm and compassionate ourselves, not taking obnoxious (or even mean) behaviors personally, plenty of self-care for the parent/caregiver, working to understand the drivers of unwanted behaviors, identifying patterns and triggers, modifying the environment to prevent problem situations and support positive ones, and using circle-back conversations to provide information/support for learning, growing, and healing.
Can you spot the need for love in a child’s unloving behaviors today? Stay tuned for next month’s article, which will share more details about how to do this. (Or contact me!)
(*) And, it’s worth mentioning, physical states are deeply influential: hunger, thirst, tiredness, and overstimulation can all stimulate crummy behavior.
(**) I googled for the origin of this quote. I didn’t really find anything definitive, but one source said that it was the words of a teacher quoted by Russell Barkley (ADHD expert.) Anyway, kudos to that teacher, whoever she may be. :^)