Often we look at children’s behaviour as maladjusted in relation to what seems to be the standard stipulated by society and, not infrequently, the objective is the extinction of that behaviour through the manipulation of the child with frequent use of punishments, time outs, prizes and rewards.
These strategies, frequently used in more traditional parenting styles, are based on behaviourist theories that tend to obtain immediate results in terms of controlling behaviour in a specific situation and transmit to the child an idea of love and recognition, dependent on and conditioned by their behaviour. These strategies often lead to stress and feelings of insecurity, which jeopardize the development of a healthy self-esteem.
Understand the origin of the behaviour
Many times we want to put an end to a certain behaviour without trying to understand its origin. A more oriented focus on the reason that perpetuates a behaviour can help us make more conscious and healthy decisions regarding the child’s performance in a certain situation. When this is our focus, we realize that, behind a behaviour seen as inappropriate, there is a child with a need, who only tries to communicate it using the tools at his/her disposal, which, many times, present themselves in the form of tantrums and oppositional behaviour.
These needs may be physical or, in most situations, emotional. Tantrums are often associated with the need to connect with the adult, the child’s need to feel safe and loved, the need to feel understood and the need to know that the love they have for you is unconditional.
If we look at the child’s behaviour through your perspective, we can quickly see that the solution lies in the relationship. If we pay attention to the reasons for the behaviour, we can act to meet the child’s needs through acknowledgement, understanding and compassion.
Understanding – the key element
It is important to clarify that meeting children’s needs does not mean meeting all their wishes, or not setting any limits. It is about understanding what was the need that motivated the child’s wishes and how the adult can provide a healthy response in order to fulfil his and the child’s needs.
Let us imagine, for example, a child who does not want to bathe alone. The adult’s tendency may be to use arguments such as “you’re a grown up, you have to wash yourself”, “your brother and your friends wash themselves”. Other behavioural strategies may also be used, such as reward tables, which may achieve the desired behaviour in a short term, but which will not allow the child to experience her fears and insecurities in a positive and constructive way, nor learn to express her needs.
In this way, although the behaviour may be extinguished, we may be conditioning the development of their self-esteem and neglecting their role in their own development process. Instead of just assuming that the child has to do it, it makes sense to ask ourselves why he does not want to do it alone: he may be insecure about his performance/achievement; he may see the bath time as a moment of connection with the caregiver and feel disconnected in the absence of this moment in his day.
If we look at the situation from the child’s point of view, perhaps we can adopt behaviours that are more adjusted to the child and that also meet the adult’s needs. These behaviours often involve using tantrums as a moment to reconnect with the child, showing her understanding, compassion, security and unconditional love.
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