Behavior is Communication

child on swing

Sometimes my kids come home from school with a story about a “bad” kid and how that kid was misbehaving in class. I try to teach them to be more open-minded and talk about scenarios that that child might be dealing with on a personal level that prompted them to act the way they do. Behavior is communication. Positive or negative behaviors are an attempt to get needs met. We all have bad days and have done things we wish we hadn’t. It doesn’t mean that we deserve a label that typifies our behavior.

Think about your own bad behavior. It usually stems from stress, lack of sleep, being hungry or feeling like you don’t have control over something that you want control of. Sometimes we act out and do and say things that affect others because of our own internal battles. What we hope for is that someone can see past our behaviors and give us what we need: reassurance, a hug, or even food! Children are not much different from us in this respect. Any kind of behavior, good or bad is communication of what they need. An angry child at school may be disregulated, triggered by a traumatic memory, hungry or scared. But what the teacher and students see is varying degrees of unacceptable behaviors.

Parents see the same behaviors at home. How much different would a parent’s reaction be if they can see past a negative behavior and see what the child is trying to communicate, possibly without  the child even understanding what he needs. I challenge you to look at your child’s behavior and see what is causing it; more often than not it is the base emotion of fear that can be triggered from emotional or physical needs that are not met or do not feel controlled. If you understand that your child is scared when she is throwing things or saying hurtful things, it is much easier to respond with empathy and love instead of escalating with your own need to gain control and be respected.

I should make the point here that parents have their own fear-based behaviors when they react to a child’s negative behaviors by being louder or stronger in an attempt to stay in control because they fear not being in control or losing respect. Brad Reedy in his book, The Journey of the Heroic Parent made a profound statement that has always stuck with me. He pointed out that parents who yell are communicating to their children that they need the child to help them calm down and get their needs met—usually this means the child’s compliance. It is hard work, but parents have to try to be okay with not having control in the midst of a child’s behaviors in order to focus on the child’s needs. Doing this will communicate to the child that they are safe with you, and you will always love them and try to meet their needs.



Forbes, H.T. (2012). Help for Billy. Beyond Consequences Institute, Boulder, CO.

Reedy, M. (2015). The Journey of the Heroic Parent. Regan Arts, New York NY


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