It seems logical to challenge kids when they misbehave by asking this question. We want to give them the opportunity to self-evaluate, and see the error of their ways.
But, the reality is that no matter how dysfunctional a child’s behaviour is, it is always working for them in some way, otherwise they wouldn’t be doing it. There might be more effective ways that they could meet their needs, but behaviour is always chosen because it’s the best way to meet a need that we can figure out in that moment.
A mom once shared with me that she didn’t understand why her child had so many temper-tantrums, because she never gave in to them. Her daughter would have a fit in the grocery store, demanding a treat, and the temper tantrum never resulted in her getting a treat. So how is her behaviour working?
It might be that what she’s really needing is mom’s attention. Having a temper tantrum certainly is an effective way to get someone’s undivided attention.
It might be that she can’t handle being in the store any longer. She could be bored, and lacking in the patience to manage this. Having a temper tantrum might be an effective way to get out of there faster.
When we look at behaviour through this lens, it can help us understand better what is needed to address the behaviour that is concerning us. Simply punishing a child will not address the needs they are trying to meet.
Perhaps mom is so focused on the task at hand that the child is feeling ignored, and with some positive interaction, things might go more smoothly. Perhaps it would work better if they went grocery shopping at a time the child isn’t so overtired, and is better able to manage. Perhaps they could make the trip more fun by dividing the list and seeing who can collect the items on the list first. Perhaps the child would feel they were doing an important job by finding the items on the list themselves.
Instead of thinking about why a behaviour is bad, thinking about the way in which it’s working can bring new insight into why it’s happening and what we can do about it.
Can you see the needs that the kids in your life are meeting with their “bad” behaviour? Leave a comment to share your creative solutions to helping kids meet their needs in a more effective way!