What's the need beneath the behavior?
I'm constantly approached by parents who want to toss out a behavior problem and have me come up with the best answer as to how the parent should deal with that particular behavior. They are asking, "How do you fix __________? Fill in with anything ranging from "My child won't get dressed for school" to "My teen is using dangerous drugs and hanging out with unsafe kids."
I wish it were that easy.
Parents come to me specifically for trust-based parenting strategies since I coach and train in Trust-Based Relational Intervention® (TBRI®). They are trying to give up their old ways, but can't see that they are really still using their old strategies and belief systems with a trust-based sprinkle on top. They will even say for said problem, "What's the TBRI® answer for handling this behavior?"
TBRI® answers aren't typically just a step one, two, three answer. I do train parents to use the IDEAL Response© and Levels of Response© as the most effective way to correct behaviors. Correcting is a big part of what we do as parents, but it will only be effective if we've spent the time doing the proactive work. TBRI® Connecting and Empowering Principles lay the foundation for correcting any behavior.
TBRI® is much more about building a connecting relationship and establishing an emotionally safe relationship in which the child or teen will come to you with her needs and lay down her maladaptive behavioral strategies - the survival strategies that kept her alive before she was yours. It is about showing the child that you have a voice with me, and I will listen to what you need. I will try to understand what you feel. I will help you solve this problem. And if you don't have the skill set to succeed, I will spend the time it takes with you to build this skill set. And for kids from hard places that can mean a LOT of our time.
I'm not going to come down hard on my child when he is dysregulated or even when he's making bad choices. I'm going to recognize as the safe adult in his life that his brain is hard-wired to respond with fight, flight, or freeze responses. I'm very deliberate about watching my own tone of voice, my own body language, even my own belief systems that might indicate to my child that he is going to be judged, punished, or shamed by me. I'm going to approach a behavior problem like there is a mystery to be solved.
Why is getting dressed in the morning so hard for my child?
- Does he dread of fear school?
- Does he feel like he's in trouble with his teacher?
- Do kids make fun of him or is he being left out at recess?
- Is the school environment a sensory overload for him?
- Is he not getting enough sleep?
- Is his blood sugar low because he hasn't had protein yet?
- Does he feel like a nerd in the clothes I've bought for him?
- Is his sensory system so sensitive that the stiff jeans or tags in his shirts are uncomfortable for him?
- Is his neurochemistry imbalanced and cortisol is too low in the morning?
- Or is he stressed and cortisol is too high?
- Has he not had enough calming sensory input to be successful?
- Am I giving more instructions at one time than he can process?
- Am I rushed and rushing him?
- Does he still power struggle with me because he doesn't know how to use his words?
- Is he developmentally ready to dress himself without frustration?
And with the teen that is choosing unsafe friends and using drugs it's even harder to solve the need beneath the behavior.
- Does she feel she doesn't fit in with our family?
- Does she truly understand the dangers involved?
- Does she feel valued and loved?
- Is she rebelling against authoritarian parenting?
- Is she lonely?
- Is her neurochemical imbalance so severe she is self-medicating with illegal substances?
- Is she bored?
- Does she need something exciting and thrilling in her life?
- Does she have the skill set to build healthy relationships?
- Is she having an identity crisis?
- Is she failing or struggling at school and this is a way to fit in?
- Does she have strong feelings she has buried and doesn't feel emotionally safe to come to me?
- Does she feel she'll never measure up to my expectations?
- Does she compare herself to my biological children and feel not good enough?
- Does she know how to express her fears and feelings?
- Have I spent time matching her and engaging in her interests?
- Do I make myself emotionally available to her?
- Does she feel seen, heard, and understood?
As parents we want behavior to stop and sometimes we get rigid about find THE ANSWER that will make it stop. Unfortunately there have been many parenting models that seem to indicate that if the child does _________, you do _________ and the problem will go away. Simple as that! Not so simple with a child from a background of early harm.
There is much work to be done. There is much repair and much building from scratch in our relationships with them if they are going to feel safe, become secure, and develop the skills to have healthy relationships and make wise choices.
Behavior communicates. It communicates needs, fears, pain, losses, and wants. It communicates skills that my child has and skills that are lacking. What is your child communicating to you? Will you stop your world long enough to deeply look at your child's desperate need?
What ideas can you suggest for discovering a child's need beneath the behavior?
P.S. Don't forget to see their preciousness.