Decoding the Language of Your Child’s Behavior

Kids don’t wake up and say, “Mom and Dad, I am hurting. Adjusting to a new school year is hard. There
are so many changes. I have a new teacher, different kids in my class, harder work. I am worried. It is
overwhelming.” Instead they refuse to get dressed, get into power struggles over food or homework,
have toilet accidents, forget their lunch, hit their siblings, have stomach aches or tantrums, or want to
sleep with mom or dad. Children communicate through their behavior. As parents, we need to decode
the messages our children are sending us.
Whether children are 3 years old or 15 years old, the start of school is stressful. There is change and
new expectations. Parents are often unaware of the many situations that can be stressful for children.
Change, loss, pain, worry, pressure, overstimulation and new situations can be stressful. Change in
routine, change in parent’s schedule, travel, holidays, growth spurts, transitions, group activities, illness,
doctor visits, babysitters, large birthday parties, learning new skills, doing things more independently,
and siblings gaining competence can bring anxiety and stress for some children. Also, since children also
are in tune with parents, parental stress, anxiety, loss and pain can affect kids.
Since children communicate through their behavior, they will show their stress through their behavior.
Typical stress behaviors fall into two categories: regressive behavior (thumb sucking, fear, sleep
problems, accidents, baby talk, forgetting, etc.) and aggressive behaviors (hitting, biting, power struggles
and backtalk).
Examine annoying or unexpected behavior. Seek to understand. Ask yourself, what is my child trying to
communicate? Is there change or stress in our lives? What does he/she need? Avoid reacting. Remain
calm and nurture children through stressful experiences.

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