Tip Sheet Tuesday: What Do These Behaviors Mean?

“I’m a convert!” said one formerly skeptical Wisconsin foster-adoptive parent. “It really is all about fear, and sometimes it really is as simple as asking, ‘What are you afraid of?’”

Kim talks about how frustrated she was in not being able to break through her daughter’s defiance. Finally one day while driving, she asked her daughter, “You don’t act out at school, right? But you do with me. Why is that?” Right away her daughter answered, “I’m afraid that Monique [her daughter’s biological mom] is drinking again and if she drinks, she might hurt someone and I don’t want her to go to jail.”What Do These Behaviors Mean?

Kim was stunned. She had no idea how much her daughter still thought about her past and how scared she was to have someone she loved potentially be incarcerated. What’s more, Kim was surprised that there was no real link to the “why” behind her daughter’s behaviors and her daughter’s fears. Like most of us, Kim was taking her daughter’s outbursts personally.

While Kim says that she was glad for the immediate breakthrough in that particular incident, she also admits that it wasn’t the cure-all she was hoping for and didn’t always have the same results in other attempts.

Not An Easy Fix
As with other parenting approaches, this is not an easy fix. It may not generate immediate results, but over time, it can help you with your child’s most challenging behaviors. Heather Forbes wrote about a lot of these behaviors in her book, Beyond Consequences Logic and Control: A Love Based Approach to Helping Children with Severe Behaviors.

Here are some different approaches that may help in understanding some of the most challenging behaviors.

Fear and Stress: Most children lack the words and understanding to identify what they are feeling and what they need. Instead, children may act out when the emotions are too big or scary. Often, the emotion causing the behaviors is fear— triggered especially when too much stress is present. It’s hard when your own stress level is high, but try to respond to the fear behind your child’s actual behavior.

The following behaviors are common in children who have had a history of trauma or challenges with attachment. Some behaviors, however, are just ingrained in people—every child is born with a certain temperament and resilience level.

Aggression: A child displaying aggression can be scary to encounter. Kim says that even though her six-year-old can be completely heart melting at times, the sheer rage continues to amaze her. “It’s a shock to hear someone that little and sweet have so much hate directed at you and to have her use the f bomb, threats to kill and gestures that she does. It’s hard to think of her as vulnerable.”

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