“Is this normal?” “Should I be worried?” “What should I do?”
These are some of the most common questions (spoken and unspoken) that I get from parents after describing some behavior or situation with their child. I welcome these questions because they are a sign that a parent is paying attention and wants to know more, wants to better understand and support their child in being their best.
Behavior (or what some call “misbehavior”) is simply an expression of energy. For children (and sometimes for adults too!) behavior is a way of communicating their needs. As conscious adults our job is to learn to increase our awareness and observation skills to better understand and interpret the needs that are being expressed. Often it can be helpful to step back and have a framework to help us see the big picture.
The Stages of Maturity, as described in the book "Education for Life" by J. Donald Walters, are a framework for understanding growth and development and can help us see that big picture. Much of the time a child’s behavior is a natural expression of their developmental stage or expressing a need for more support and encouragement to develop in that area. Understanding these stages helps give us perspective and find positive ways to meet those needs and support their growth.
For example, a 4 year old who won’t sit still and practice writing letters may merely be responding to an unmet need for movement and physical expression and exploration that is natural at this age. A 16 year old who seems unmotivated to complete their school work may be expressing a need for greater challenge and active engagement in the learning process to support the natural development of will power at this age.
Of course, we are all a combination of these four aspects - body, feeling, will and intellect. And there are many other variables within each individual as well: their unique preferences, personality, talents, rate of development etc. We may see will power exerting itself in a two-year old or the joy of physical activity expressed in a teenager. However, the Stages of Maturity show us the unique needs and opportunities of each age which can help us to better understand each child and support their balanced development.
In addition we can’t underestimate the influence of environment and of meeting the basic, universal needs for supporting a child in being their best. Oftentimes challenging behavior can be lessened or even eliminated by working with simple things like sleep routines, healthy eating habits, water intake, play and exercise. We know these things are important but sometimes we forget just how important they are to our overall well being. If you're struggling to find a solution to a challenging behavior, take a moment to step back, observe and reflect whether a small adjustment might be needed in one of these areas for you or your child. We can't forget the importance of our own basic needs too! As parents it’s easy to get caught in the day to day events and responsibilities. Being able to zoom out and look at the big picture is an essential piece of becoming a more conscious parent. Our Monthly Circle is a great opportunity to pause, reflect, get perspective and set new intentions and you can learn more about how to create a balanced and supportive home environment for the whole family in our upcoming session of Calm and Compassionate Parenting. And as always, you can email any time with questions!