Behavior is Communication

On a recent support group, someone posted about a very young child having huge fits that lasted 30-45 minutes and were destructive also.  The question was how to get the child to stop.

I didn’t say it at the time, but I don’t think the goal really *is* to get it to stop.  I mean, the long term goal may be, of course, but right now, I think the questions are “what is the child trying to communicate?” and “how can I best help the child?”  In time, because we stay calm, help the child get her needs met, and help her learn some life skills.  

In the end, though, different things work for different kids.  This first suggestion I listed almost sounds shocking, but I think if you’re matter-of-fact, empathetic, not punitive, it can really work.  Well, it did really work.  I’m much more likely to do a mix of the second two suggestions, but again, all kids are different.

Some ideas:

* Put her outside. “Outside voices go outside” and outside tends to be calming. ECI completely agreed with this idea for one of our toddlers a few years ago. And it really helped and worked. I do think you have to be careful about HOW you do it.

* We have had MANY kids that sitting very close to them, quiet, matching their degree of eye contact, or pulling them into your lap and rocking with gentle touch and soft speaking like you would an infant (shhhh, “I see you’re upset,” “Those are big feelings; I’m here for you.”). IMO, this teaches kids that big feelings are something you can handle and that you still love the child when she has them.

* Matching intensity by stating what they are really saying in words. This is good because usually screaming is something they do because they don’t know what really to say. Giving words for their feelings helps. Matching intensity tells them that you understand HOW they feel it.

The point with any of these things is to give them something they need. If they need a skill, you’re giving it. If they are needing acceptance and loving they hadn’t gotten prior, they are now getting it.

Punishment is rarely necessary for a 3yo and it often takes away from better discipline and need providing.

If you feel it *is* necessary to discipline further, whether that discipline includes punishment or not, doing so when everyone is calmed down will make more of a healthy impact. You can even make it more related to the situation. For example, using the calming jar (Pinterest) may be a good situation for a time out because it also is something the child could use in the moment later. Better discipline options like making amends and/or serving others will work well after everyone is calm.

Trying to discipline when people are out of control is just going to frustrate everyone more.  The 3yo is not going to want to apologize to her sister.  The 5yo doesn’t care that you have now taken his screen time and will send him to bed early because he wouldn’t just sit on his bed for five minutes.  Your just making the 11yo angrier and more focused on himself and his perceived injustice by grounding him for increasing amounts of time.  And it rarely *works.*  It isn’t likely to control him.  It certainly isn’t teaching him self-control.  And people can’t learn *well* when they are so upset. 

It is just so important to remember that behavior has little to nothing to do with how the child feels about us.  Instead, behavior is communication.  It tells us if our child is working from a place of love or fear.  It tells us if our child has needs for us to meet.  It tells us if they are lacking certain life skills.  Negative behavior is a call for help.  And when children can do better, they will do better.  That behavior communicates that they are starting to feel safe, secure, heard, loved.  It tells us that they have gained skills and tools they will need in life.  

Behavior is communication.