Tuesday, December 7, 2010

"Problem Behaviors"

Someone contacted my husband asking if he would be willing to help them with their child's problem behaviors.  When I mentioned this to my 14 year old daughter she laughed.  Then she said something like, "To us the solution is so obvious."  And what was the solution that was so obvious to a teenager?  The child had needs that weren't being met.  As I have written before, meeting the needs of children is the Easy Button of Parenting.

When parents seek help for their children's "problem behaviors" what they are really asking for is a way to make the behaviors stop.  When parents focus on the behavior, instead of on their children, the solution is often staring them in the face unnoticed.  On the other hand, some parents know what the solution is, but they are not willing to acknowledge it because meeting the needs of their children may seem daunting, inconvenient, or require them to make changes in their life.  We must remember that we chose to be parents and we made a commitment to our children.  When they are young, our children are completely dependent upon us to meet their needs.  While our needs are important, we have a greater number of resources, and that includes the ability to delay gratification.  Yes, our needs are equally important, but if we are not willing and able to occasionally put our children's needs ahead of our own then perhaps we should reconsider being a parent.

If you are struggling with "problem behaviors" start by asking yourself, "What does my child need and how can I meet those needs?"    Be honest about what needs are going unmet even if you are not sure how to meet them or it seems the only way to meet them will be drastic changes in your life.  If you need help identifying needs that need meeting reread this blog post.  Also ask yourself if you are truly accepting and embracing your child.  Notice if you say things like, "I love my kid, but I wish he wasn't so loud."  "She's a great kid but she won't sit still for school/church/meals."  "Why can't he be tidier, like his brother?"   Perhaps the problem is not with the behaviors.  Perhaps the problem with with your attitude about the behaviors.

Remember that there is a reason for your child's behavior.  Usually the behavior is an attempt to get their needs met to the best of their ability.  If you are proactively meeting your child's needs your child will not have to resort to "problem behaviors" in an effort to get your attention and get their needs met.  If you stop a behavior without meeting the underlying need you are creating an unhealthy situation for your child.  Your child may bottle up their emotions only to have them erupt in anger, depression, or physical illness later in their life.  Your child may find other people to meet their needs, not always in healthy ways.  Your child may develop learned helplessness: they know their needs aren't going to be met so they give up trying.  See "My child doesn't mind" for more on learned helplessness. 

When you find yourself thinking that your child has problem behaviors unhook yourself from the thought that you need to stop the behavior.  Try looking at life through your child's eyes.  Approach your child with unconditional love and compassion, and find ways to connect with your child.  Include your child in figuring out what their needs are and how their needs can be met.  Remind yourself that nothing is more important than your relationship with your child, and that includes stopping "problem behaviors."


  1. Dear Jenna,
    I agree!
    I am a Professional Counsellor (Autism/Apsergers/Teens). So often I have seen teachers and parents grappling with the situations you describe in your post.
    I am a parent myself, with 3 teens and "mum" to many others.
    When one takes the time to listen to what is bothering a child (as they display 'behaviours'), the child usually feels valued and respected for the inquirer taking the time to care, notice and show empathy.
    As I am writing in one of my books currently, children are 'natural responders' (chapter title) regarding their responses to what affects them, positively or negatively. We as parents, carers and teachers need to listen to, observe and respect their unique responses and help them when they are struggling to make sense of something...........
    Great topic (discovered you in the Parental Intelligence Newsletter) and will add you to my blog list of 'links'.
    Cheers, Louise Page (Heart and Soul of Autism).

  2. I am so glad to have read this post! My son has a variety of "challenges", including (but not limited to) ADHD, OCD, SPD and very likely Asperger's. For the last 3 years he has been working with speech, occupational, physical and behavioral therapists. There have been many times I've had conversations with people who are of the opinion that "he doesn't need therapy, he just needs to learn". That answer has never been enough for me, and while it makes for a busy, complicated week sometimes, I have never regretted keeping him in therapy to get him the help he needs.

    Now, my next project is learning how to homeschool without mimicing the school process I'm trying to get away from. I'm sure it will take some trial and error, but reading blogs like this one give me hope it can be done. Successfully, too :)