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Behavioral Messages from Your Children

Behavioral Messages from Your Children

By J. Bailey Molineux, Ph.D.

Words are not the only way children communicate with their parents. Sometimes their behavior speaks just as loudly, if not as clearly.

A three year old, formerly toilet trained child suddenly starts to wet her bed.

The grades of a nine year old begin to drop.

A twelve year old child is arrested for shoplifting, the first time he has ever gotten been in any serious trouble.

In each of these examples, the child may be trying to say something to her parents she can't put into words, either because she is reluctant or doesn't have the ability to do so.

A child may be overwhelmed by his feelings but hesitant to share them with anyone - including his parents - for fear he will be punished or rejected. Or he may not have the experience with words to express his deepest, most private feelings, especially if he is younger.

But emotions have to come out some way, so if they aren't put into words, they may be expressed in action.

The three year old bed wetter may be trying to tell her parents she is jealous of her baby brother who seems to be taking all of their attention.

The nine year old whose grades are dropping may be expressing anger towards his parents because he feels they're too critical of him.

The twelve year old, first offense shoplifter may be upset about his parents' fighting and impending divorce. By acting up, he draws their attention to himself and away from their marital difficulties.

When your child misbehaves or behaves in a way that is not usual for her, what can you do to translate her message into words? How can you tell what she is trying to say and to whom?

First, examine your relationship with your child. Is he old enough to express himself in words? If so, can he communicate with you freely and directly or does he have to use more subtle, indirect ways to get through to you?

Next, examine her misbehavior as objectively and unemotionally as you can.

When does it occur? In what setting and with whom?

What sets the behavior off? Does it seem to occur spontaneously, without observable cause, or is there something specific that triggers it?

If you think you have determined what your child is trying to tell you, you might invite him to talk about it, although you must respect his right to refuse to do so.

You may want to respond to your child's message and ignore the behavior by which it was sent, although some behaviors have to be corrected or punished no matter what the reason for them. But understanding the message in your child's behavior will enable you to deal more effectively with it and improve your relationship with her.

More often than not, the message from your child is, I want your attention. If I can't get it for good behavior, I'll get it for misbehavior.

And more often than not, responding to your child with more of your time and love, but with the understanding that some behaviors are not acceptable, will clear it up.


About the Author: J. Bailey Molineux, a psychologist with Adult and Child Counseling, has incorporated many of his articles in a book, Loving Isn't Easy, Isbn 1587410419, sold through bookstores everywhere or available directly from Selfhelpbooks.com. Copyright 2002, J. Bailey Molineux and Selfhelpbooks.com, all rights reserved. This article may be reprinted but must include authors copyright and website hyperlinks.

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