By Clare Crew
This article has been supplied and reproduced with permission from the Great Health Guide, a 96five community contributor.
Children’s behaviour often falls short of our ideal. There may be tantrums, tears, aggression, arguing and a refusal to do what’s being asked. When a child behaves in these ways, our patience is tested. We feel overwhelmed, frustrated and depleted. We label the child’s actions as ‘inappropriate’ and allocate a consequence designed to deter its future repetition. This approach is rarely a success. Which is why we are continuing to see the same behaviours in our children again and again.
‘Allocating a consequence designed to deter repetition, rarely succeeds’
You may be surprised to know that a child’s behaviour is not driven by their delight at giving us grey hairs. Instead, it is instinctively selected to meet the needs of their higher development. When examining a child’s behaviour, clues are always left behind informing us of what is sought developmentally. We just need to sit up and pay attention.
Let’s explore four examples:
- Hyperactivity – when a child can’t sit still, medication is not what’s needed. The body is craving more movement. A child’s brain is not mature and ready for the academic world of school until foundations have firstly been laid in the physical body. That’s why movement is crucial in early life, with the need continuing if challenges are encountered, in the areas of learning, attention and behaviour. Not convinced? Look at the similarities between toddlers and hyperactive children. Both move constantly, their focus is short and they are working to their own agenda, not ours. The only factor that’s changed between these two groups of children is our age-related expectations.
- Biting – when a child is biting other people or objects, he or she is seeking more proprioception. Proprioceptive input is that which stimulates the muscles, joints and ligaments of the body. Think of anything your body does with exertion; pushing, pulling, squeezing, lifting and yes, biting. Giving a biting child more opportunities to flex their muscles may eliminate this behaviour. Ideas to try include rough and tumble play, carrying their own bag, wall push ups, hanging on monkey bars, deep pressure massage and giant bear hugs. Chewable jewellery can also be used to provide the sought after biting sensation, in a safer way.
- Thumb Sucking. When a child sucks their thumb beyond toddlerhood, they may be seeking additional comfort in a world that is anxiety provoking. As a baby, the sucking action is associated with comfort and for some children this need continues beyond the first few months of life. Another reason that a child may continue sucking their thumb, is to relieve the cranial pressure that may be lingering from the birth process. A craniosacral therapist or chiropractor can address this structurally, thereby resolving the behaviour.
- Meltdowns. When a child is overwhelmed or when unexpected changes occur, meltdowns are likely to transpire. Meltdowns are bigger than tantrums and are out of the child’s control. When one has run its course, it is essential to consider the events leading up to it, in order to reduce the frequency of their occurrence. Having a predictable routine and reducing trips to high sensory spaces such as shopping centres, can be incredibly beneficial. When a child feels safe in the world around them, meltdowns dissipate.
‘Problem behaviours are developmental clues in disguise’
In reading these four examples, it is easier to recognise that ‘problem’ behaviours in our eyes are developmental clues in disguise. To move forwards, we need to meet our children’s behaviour with less reactivity and more understanding. We need to consider what is being communicated to us and to plan for how we can support that unmet need.
Clare Crew is a Child Development Consultant.