Childhood seems to have become a pathology.
If children don’t do what the adults around them deem to be “good behavior”, a diagnosis, or label of some type is given to the child: Attention Deficient Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), Separation Anxiety Disorder (SAD), Conduct Disorder. There is a long list of learning disabilities: dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, and on and on. Unfortunately, there are now drugs for almost every label we associate with a child that is not performing to adult standards.
Most behaviors are normal responses to stressors in our environment, whether we are children or not. Too much noise? As adults, we might experience a headache, stomachache, or we can choose to leave the situation. For a child the choices are limited. Experience is limited as well, so the only avenues for expressing sensory overload might be screaming, running around in a hyperactive manner, or belligerence.
When we are too controlling, a child’s natural response tends to be rebellious or oppositional.
Brain research is showing that children may need the equivalent activity of walking ten miles a day for optimum brain development. Perhaps many of our cases of ADHD are normal responses to not getting enough exercise, along with other factors of adults trying to over-control (or under-control) the child’s environment, along with a child’s sensory overload.
One of the interesting aspects of human behavior is that behavior is need-driven. Needs can be physical or spiritual, or perhaps a mixture of both. For example, our need for food fills a physical need, hunger, along with the spiritual needs of belonging, beauty and more.
Behavior, whether we approve of it or not, is need-driven.
If we want to change a behavior we should step back and consider what needs the behavior is fulfilling. This strategy works for adults and children. Once we understand the need we can begin to change the environment to find a way for a person to have their needs met so that all can live together.
From a child’s point of view there is no misbehavior, only actions in order to met immediate personal needs.
- A child running through a store? Perhaps trying to meet a need for movement and self-expression.
- A child yelling “no!”? Perhaps a need to become independent.
- A child refusing to do as told? Perhaps meeting a need for adult attention.
- A child having reading and writing difficulties? Perhaps certain physical and emotional needs are not being met.
Behaviors are need driven. Find the need, fulfill the need, and normal and natural development can flourish.
Most of the times our children’s “misbehavior” is all about trying to fulfill an unmet need with no experience, no words, and no tools to do so. Most of the time, a bad day is just a bad day. Nothing more if we can do our adult job of preparing an environment to help the child in his or her efforts to build a human being.
Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Perhaps there is no need to label a child anything other than being a child.