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Bad behaviour is communication too!

By: Carla Richards (Intern Educational Psychologist)

Being a parent can be a time of intensely confusing feelings- love, frustration, anger and joy. These are just some of the feelings that can run through your mind in just one day as a parent. But we sometimes forget that children also have an emotional world just like adults: equally complex and unique. The difficulty comes in when the emotional worlds of the parent and child meet and there is not always a match between the two. Children very often show us their thoughts and feelings through behaviour. While talking is one of the clearest ways to get your feelings across, for children this can be much more difficult for many different reasons:

  1. Children don’t always know what it is that they feel. If we ask them what is wrong or what they are feeling, they may not be able to answer us accurately.

  2. Children don’t always have the language to capture exactly what they feel. Smaller children especially do not yet have the complex language to explain how they are feeling and what they need to make them feel safe and secure again.

  3. The type of family that children grow up in also impacts on how able they are to speak about their emotional experiences. It may not be seen as acceptable or allowed to express what they feel in their particular family.

When one or more of these factors is at play, the only way left for the child to express themselves is to show it through their behaviour. To an adult this ‘bad behaviour’ can look like tantrums, clinginess, acting out, aggression, tearfulness or a lack of concentration. Many of these behaviours can be confusing for the parent to make sense of, and can often result in frustration and tension in the home.

However, it is important to remember that your child is not his behaviour, but rather he may be trying to give you a clue about what is happening in his or her emotional world.

Here are some helpful ways for parents to respond to a difficult behaviour so that they can help them to make sense of what is going on inside of them:

  1. Spend time connecting with your child and try to imagine what their behaviours might be telling you about what they are feeling.

  2. Help your child identify what they may be feeling and giving it a name (“I wonder if you are feeling worried about that test tomorrow and that’s why you’ve got a tummy ache?”). Emotion ‘face charts’ can be a fun way to help children give their feelings a name.

  3. It is also helpful to show acceptance for a child’s communications, and not push them away for what they are trying to show us. This will encourage them to come to you when they have a ‘big’ confusing feelings first instead of acting out.

Ububele is an organisation that promotes healthy relationships and communication between children and their parents. If you have any queries please let us know and contact us on 011 786 5085.

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