The storm before the calm

Behaviour is something that I get asked about an awful lot in my job as an educational psychologist. Mostly people are asking for strategies to help cope with or manage a child’s behaviours.

My response is always this…behaviour is a form of communication. The child is trying to tell you something, and ‘behaviour’ is what they are using to communicate. Children feel the exact same range of emotions that adults do, they just don’t have the skills to communicate them yet (I know- not all adults have these skills either), and so they use their behaviours to tell us something.

Boy number two often has ‘behaviour’ that needs some support. I think that very often his oppositional behaviour comes from a place that is driven by his lack of ability to communicate well. He doesn’t quite have the same level of language or understanding of the world around him that others his age do.

I have to ask myself what my reaction would be if things felt unpredictable for me because I didn’t understand what was happening and I was unable to tell people that this was the case. I would probably have an oppositional or stubborn reaction to gain some control over my situation. I think that when boy number two is having these stubborn and oppositional behaviours, sometimes leading to what are commonly referred to as meltdowns, he is feeling this lack of understanding and need for control too. Put together, anxiety is what he is feeling.

Anxiety is one of those emotions that even for adults it is difficult to express in a way that others know you are anxious, not just being difficult or stubborn or controlling. Anxiety is something which I believe drives much of the ‘behaviour’ I get asked to help with at work.

If we constantly use behaviour management strategies to minimise or control the child’s behaviours, and never question why they are doing the things they do, it is likely that there will be a repetitive cycle of behaviour. If we look beyond the management strategies, towards emotional support, we may actually help to stop the child feeling anxious, provide some emotional containment, and make that little person feel more positive.

Unsurprisingly, such behaviours for boy number two often arise as we are trying to get something done, like getting out of the door or getting dressed or going somewhere. I say unsurprisingly, as I often use the phrase ‘he doesn’t do new very well’, so of course something different or new is going to provoke anxiety and the associated behaviours. It is a case of me remembering that…sometimes I get frustrated and try to ‘deal’ with the behaviour and it all escalates into a meltdown. On reflection after the event I remember that perhaps if I had dealt with him on an emotional level that it would be better all round. Me getting frustrated leads to more anxiety for him as he doesn’t understand why I am cross with him for being worried and so it worsens.

I have said it before, that being a reflective parent leads to a much happier experience for all than being a reactive parent. The more I am mindful of that, the less I am reactive. Although I am certain I will always have to remind myself of that, and keep working on that notion.

So why not avoid situations for boy number two that might provoke anxiety? Many reasons- we might never leave the house, he might never wear any types of new clothing, he may never have discovered that he loves going to beavers, or school or parties. His world would become very small indeed. Thankfully his anxiety is soothed once he realises he is safe and it’s not that bad. The storm before the calm. I know that isn’t the case for all.

So, reflective wins over reactive to help weather the storm before the calm.