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The iceberg of behaviours

Many parents often wonder why’ their child behaves in a certain way so they can help tweak unhelpful behaviour!


Behaviour is considered a form of communication. Some children may be unable to verbally express their thoughts and feelings, or unable to have insight due to significant emotions.

More importantly, Behaviours are generally the tip of the iceberg; what’s underneath can be much more complex than the behaviour itself.



Behaviours serve 4 functions:


To seek or avoid sensory experiences- this may include avoiding noisy and busy places, seeking deep pressure, seeking or avoiding particular smells, seeking movement, or avoiding particular food textures.


To seek escape- this may be avoiding less preferred tasks and activities, escaping challenging tasks, escaping social situations, avoiding expectations from others.


To gain or avoid attention- children often engage in behaviour to quickly gain attention from others, which often means doing the biggest and most noticeable behaviour! Sometimes children may withdraw from attention, such as when they are feeling anxious, and may think they will get in trouble for their behaviour.


To gain something tangible such as items or activities- Children are highly motivated by external rewards, and they want to get a toy or activity that benefits them. I have heard stories from many parents about children wanting to purchase toys when they go shopping, and the behaviours that occur before, during, and after as children try to attain their want.



What approaches can parents do to help shift these behaviours ?


Prevent- this can be by managing the environment to reduce the presence or impact of what can trigger behaviour. This may be thinking about preparing children for noises, explaining what is going to happen, having backup options such as leaving a shop earlier than planned, avoiding the toy store.


Respond- acknowledge and reflect the behaviours and emotions you can see back to your child, support them to calm down, avoid any talking as their brains are unable to comprehend information at this time. Additionally, understanding what the function of their behaviour may be can help to provide the best solution! Problem solve with children after they have calmed about what happened, asking “who”, “what”, “where”, and “when” questions; avoid “why” questions as children may not understand why they behaved as they did.


Replace- this involves teaching and educating your child when they are calm on what is an appropriate behaviour to meet their needs. This can be ideas on how they gain attention, how they can wait, how they can meet sensory needs, and understanding expectations.


What approaches should parents avoid whilst helping shift these behaviours?


Respond in kind - a screaming match is exhausting with no winners


Trying to teach at heightened emotional states - our frontal lobe functions are not working to process information… teaching often occurs later once the dust has settled


Don't dismiss the behaviour - Don't dismiss the feelings by telling them not to be silly or to forget about it, Instead focus on calming your child, your child will likely provide the answers once you can both look back with a level head.


Remember that you and your child are trying to work together to make things better, and this is a learning time for both of you on how to help emotions and behaviours.


The more you practice, the better you get at it

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