FAMILIES FIRST: Evaluating your child’s behavior
We humans are a social species, and as such our behavior does not occur in a vacuum. Many biological, emotional, social, and environmental factors can influence not only the way we act, but also the way in which we perceive the actions of others.
Last time, I talked about the importance of completing a thorough behavioral evaluation when you believe your child has acted in an unacceptable manner. Of course, some misbehavior requires immediate and decisive action. Safety first!
I’m old-school and like the “who-what-where-when-why&how” approach to evaluation. Not all of these questions will apply to every behavioral incident, and you will have considerations unique to your family that you will want to include in your own system.
WHO? Who is involved? Did your child act out by herself? Or was she responding to someone else? What is the relationship between your child and the other person(s) present? (For example, did your child, who is shy and anxious around strangers, act out in the presence of a new person?)
WHAT? What happened? Also, is the behavior truly unacceptable, or merely annoying?
WHERE? Physical environment can absolutely affect behavior. Think about the last time you were stuck in a two hour meeting in an overly air-conditioned conference room with no windows. Boring! If you were a kid, would you not have acted out in that environment? Consider the location and how it may play into the behavior.
WHEN? Is it very early or late? Is it meal or nap time? If your child has become accustomed to a routine or structured schedule, and he is off his “agenda,” that may contribute to acting out. Right before the behavior occurred, was your child feeling: happy, angry, sad, anxious, afraid, bored, tired, or hungry? The younger the child, the more likely these factors will affect his behavior.
Check yourself as well. If you are feeling any of the above factors (adding stress to the list), then your perceptions about what you observed are likely to be affected. Think about how you respond to a stressor when you are feeling calm, content, and well-rested, as opposed to when you are stressed-out, hungry, or tired.
Finally, were your expectations around this behavior made clear to your child? And, has your child been exposed to adult role-modeling such that an appropriate precedent regarding this type of behavior has been set?
Once you have considered these questions, then it should be relatively easy for you to understand WHY the behavior occurred and HOW to appropriately respond to it. You will get faster at doing the evaluation with practice, and the more you do, the more confident you’ll be in knowing your judgment and responses are appropriate.
Next time, we’ll look at ways to respond to misbehavior and acting out among children from 0-3 years-old. Until then, here’s to the health and happiness of you and your family!