What is My Child’s Behavior Telling Me? 10 Things to Consider Before Correcting Behavior

what is your child's behavior telling you

I get so frustrated sometimes at the very different standard of expectations and reactions for the behavior of adults and children.

An adult struggles. Sympathy, encouragement, help is offered.

A child struggles. Discipline, anger, impatience, and “That parent needs to show that child who’s boss!” advice is given.

Adult with a bad attitude? Must need coffee and a listening ear.

Child with a bad attitude? Must need isolation and removal of priveleges.

Adult with an anger problem? “It’s just my personality.”

Child with an anger problem? “That child is going to end up in jail someday if someone doesn’t whip his bottom!”

Listen, I get it. I really do.

Parenting is stinkin’ hard work. I don’t care if you’re parenting one child or ten, adopted or biological, young or old–it’s very hard work. It takes preparation and patience and thought to evaluate each situation as it presents itself, and sometimes it’s just plain easier to react to the child’s behavior and ignore the work of connecting with their heart.

It’s usually faster, too. Right?

But our children’s behavior springs from their heart! Taking the time to listen to what their behavior is saying to us, and then teaching and encouraging and mentoring that behavior allows us to parent the WHOLE child and not just the surface. It affects lasting change. And it draws the child closer to us, fostering trust and attachment.

Here are 10 things to consider before correcting your child’s behavior:

  1. Is the child hungry? Hunger crowds the brain and reduces the child’s ability to think clearly. There are those who will say–“My child should obey with a happy heart every time no matter what. I won’t make excuses for my child’s behavior.” To that I say, who are you kidding? I’m an adult and I need food every couple of hours or I start to crash and grumpy Mama comes  out for a visit! Hunger isn’t an excuse for sin, but it oftentimes can be the catalyst to the irritability behind the sin. Feed hungry children. 🙂
  2. Is the child tired? Again, exhaustion isn’t a blanket excuse for any of us to sin, but if you’ve kept your little one up late or they’ve missed a nap one too many days, consider whether sleep is the communicating need underneath the behavior issue. Help them catch up on their sleep asap, and see if it affects the behavior. Note: some children can handle an occasional lack of sleep with little affect. Others fall apart into a billion pieces when they’re sleep deprived. Don’t discipline a child who just needs sleep to feel better.
  3. Does the child have an unmet emotional need? I cannot begin to count how many times I’ve gone to correct a child, slowed down to ask a few probing questions, and had a weeping child curled up on my lap within seconds. Wrong behavior may be a cover for an emotional need the child needs help understanding and working through.
  4. Has the child experienced a major life change? This is a biggie. Parental job changes, new sibling, loss of loved one, friend rejection, moving to a new home–major life changes affect both adults and children. Issues like bed wetting, nightmares, changes in appetite, emotional outbursts, acting younger than age appropriate, etc, are signs that the child is struggling with the changes in his life. Reassurance is key here.
  5. Is the child seeking attention? I have a couple of children who will act out when they’re getting “lost” in the day to day busy-ness of family life. It’s a good idea to consider whether the child is misbehaving in order to get extra attention or time with you. Sometimes I even ask my child if they’re needing more time with Mommy. Redirect the attention seeker to healthier ways of having their needs met, and purpose to spend more time with the child.
  6. Is there more to the “story” than what meets the eye? Reactionary parenting isn’t connected. You know how it goes. You’re engrossed in a task. Children begin fussing in another room. You go to deal with the conflict, halfheartedly and impatiently, because you’re irritated that your much more important task got interrupted. With that kind of heart attitude, it will be difficult to hear what happened and get to the root of the problem. Consider whether you’re reacting to conflicts too quickly and missing the heart matters of your children.
  7. Is this a recurring sin problem for this child? Maybe the child needs spiritual guidance and practical help to conquer this sin. Be prepared to take whatever time is needed to pray with your child and share Scriptures for them to memorize. Encourage older children to journal their thoughts and prayers.
  8. Is there an inconsistency in the home that is frustrating the child? Are both parents on the same page? Does the child get treated one way by Mommy and a different way when Daddy comes home? Even very young children can explain how frustrating inconsistency is to them, and this is a big behavior trigger.
  9. Have I provoked the child to anger? I’m afraid many parents don’t take this one seriously. They mock, tease, treat harshly,  provoke, or enrage the child, then punish the child for being angry. Children are not subhuman–they are simply immature humans, and as such, they should be treated with respect and compassion. Provoking a child to anger is a sin.
  10. Am I modeling the same behavior I am punishing my child for? Do as I SAY, not as I DO doesn’t work. We have to be modeling those characteristics we long to see in our litte people! If you’re telling your child to do something you’re not doing yourself, consider what you are modeling to your child. Change yourself first, and don’t expect your child to behave better than you’ve trained them to act.

Children are not subhuman

As parents, we can’t ignore our children’s misbehavior.  But as we seek to teach, guide, and coach our children along the way, it is helpful to consider what their behavior is telling us. 

Are you listening?

You might also enjoy Hypocrisy in the Home or Two Choices for the Frustrated Parent (alternatives to yelling, lecturing, and threatening).


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