Understanding Your Young Child: Part 2
by Joshua Nave LLMSW
“Why is he/she acting like that?” In part two, we are going to take a deeper look into why children “misbehave” and where some of the symptoms of “acting out” are originating from. In our previous post, we discussed a few of the basic principles that I try to impact upon the parents I work with, and in this article, I will take a deeper look into the principle that all behavior happens for a reason.
So at this point, some of you may already be saying, “There’s no reason for what he/she/they are doing! He/she/they are just doing it!” Maybe you have already found yourself saying that your child is malicious, sneaky, or just a bad child because of their behaviors, and I’d like to let you know that these are all common beliefs that my parents come to me with. Parents are often confounded on the rationale behind their children’s’ actions, as sometimes even their children are unable to explain why they chose to do something. One of the most important things we must come to understand is that children, especially young children (0 to 5), are still developing their cognitive (or thought) capacities (Learning Theories, 2019).
At early stages of human development, human beings have yet to develop the capacities for rational thought, and instead, are primarily driven by impulses. Young children especially are prone to quickly shift between being happy, scared, sad, hunger, sleepy, and more in a matter of moments, all driven by the natural responses that their bodies are telling them. This inevitably brings me back to my point: human beings are encoded from birth to seek out certain needs. A key example is that of a baby crying, as when a baby cries, human beings have become naturally encoded to feel stress from that cry. In fact, the baby itself generally is not experiencing stress when they are crying (Furness, 2012).
So, if your baby isn’t stressed, why is it crying? Again, before your baby ever is able to think the thoughts, “I need my diaper changed, mom doesn’t give me enough food, dad isn’t rocking me well enough,” your baby already has intrinsic needs built into them. This leads me to the main point of the persuasion: children will find ways to meet their needs, whether for good or bad, even if they are not aware of what those needs are. Your child who jumps off the couch even though he gets in trouble each time he does is likely expressing a need in doing so. Is he lonely, unstimulated (bored), or is it more complex than that? Perhaps your child is missing one of their caregivers, perhaps having those intrinsic feelings inside of them is hard to deal with (especially when you have no words for them!), and perhaps jumping off the couch and feeling that surge of adrenaline makes the sad feelings go away, if only for a moment.
If you are interested in getting a more compressive and in-depth view of why your child behaves the way they do, make sure to schedule a 15-minute complimentary phone consultation with me. Together, we can determine what needs your child is seeking, as well as help them to express those needs in a more appropriate way! I’ll be back later with a discussion on the labels we give to children’s behaviors and the impact it can have on them throughout their lives. Until then, remember that just as your child learns more about life every day, so can parents!
Learning Theories. (2019). Stage Theory of Cognitive Development (Piaget). Retrieved from https://www.learning-theories.com/piagets-stage-theory-of-cognitive-development.html.
Furness, H. (2012). Babies left to cry ‘feel stressed’, research finds. Retrieved from https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/children/9286683/Babies-left-to-cry-feel-stressed-research-finds.html.