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Does Your Child Have Limiting Behaviors?

Jun 19, 2008
Parents and educators who come to me for coaching feel unclear how to handle repetitive troubling behaviors and challenges with their child. They don't know how to effectively respond to these situations in order to best help their child. They feel confused about how to evaluate their child's behavior. What behaviors are warning signs of a child in trouble and what are simply part of a child growing up?

Many troubling patterns appear to be normal child development because we see them frequently in children of similar ages. Parents struggle with issues and challenges that appear to be similar to those other parents' experience. These frustrating challenges can appear to be part of normal child development.

When you see a behavior or stressor frequently in other families or classrooms, it does not mean it is an emotionally healthy behavior."Normal" does not mean "healthy." Because a situation occurs frequently does not mean this behavior is emotionally healthy or whole. It only means it occurs often because parents tend to relate with their child in similar ways.

If nurturing your child's emotional wholeness is important to you, it is important to be able to distinguish between "normal behavior" and "emotionally healthy behavior."

While traveling in France, I observed a family interaction that exemplifies the kinds of limiting patterns parents and educators frequently experience with young people. I am walking along a trail to see the ancient Roman bridge in southern France, the famous Pont du Gard.

A family of four walks in front of me - Mother, Father, Daughter about 3 or 4, and Son about 6 or 7. They walk in a line, all four of them holding hands with the two children in the middle. It looks so loving and connected.

Suddenly Daughter angrily and defiantly pulls away from the line, turns her back on them and refuses to walk further. For a few brief moments, Son continues walking happily between Mom and Dad, holding each of their hands.

Then Mom and Dad stop and turn toward Daughter, trying to coax her back into the hand-holding line, but she refuses. She is having what I call "a silent tantrum." There is a feeling of tension in the air. I walk past them as Mom and Dad try to coax their daughter to join them.

A few minutes later I come upon them again. Their relationship to one another has changed dramatically. Now Daughter rides atop Mom's shoulders. Dad is nowhere in sight. About four feet from Mom, Son marches woodenly forward, eyes glazed over and glued ahead, face expressionless, trying to act is if everything is okay.

No one is happy. Even daughter. She looks defiantly and angrily toward her older brother as if she is staking her claim to Mom and is warning her brother to stay away.

These kinds of interactions happen frequently in families and classrooms. A child develops a limiting behavior in an attempt to get her emotional needs met. Then she repeats it often in many different situations because it seems to work.

One of the biggest problems with this girl's behavior is that she will continue to use this strategy throughout her life in all of her interactions with others. The only way to change this is for her to learn a more positive approach to asking for what she wants.

Parents and teachers unknowingly contribute to these limiting behavior patterns in their child by how they react to their child's behavior. No one wins in these situations, and the pattern continues.

What are the repetitive interactions with your child that interfere with the harmony in your home or with your joy and peace of mind? What are the frustrating situations that happen so frequently they feel "normal" to you? What are the times when you lose your loving connection with your child?

These repetitive upsetting interactions are red flags that indicate an emotional concern for you and your child, whether they last only moments or the entire evening. Parents often put off doing something to improve the situation until it becomes an overwhelming crisis, and they feel stressed to the breaking point. Then they seek support and guidance.

Nothing is gained by putting off taking action to improve the seemingly small difficulties with your child. Life passes by, and your child grows up quickly. Instead of struggling with a troubling issue, take positive action today to have more joy, love and connection with your child. You both deserve the best life has to offer.
About the Author
Connie Allen, M.A. of Joy with Children. Connie helps parents and educators who are unsure how to best empower their child. . For information on how you can nurture the joyous inner spirit of children, subscribe to her free e-newsletter "Joy with Children". Visit her blog.
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