Children are not always well behaved. At times we know why they are acting out but at other times we have no idea why they behave the way they do. I usually use Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to explain why kids behave the way they do, but I recently thought of a new approach that works too:
Our physical wellbeing is the base building block for our entire wellbeing.
When kids have everything sorted physically it is unlikely that their physicality will be the cause of challenging behaviour.
However, when a child is; tired, hungry, thirsty, sick, in need of sunlight, in need of exercise, in need of a cuddle, in need of a poo, when they have eaten something that doesn’t suit their body, when something in their environment is challenging their senses (loud noises, an irritant on their skin, bright lights, a weird smell, etc) then it becomes very hard for kids to manage themselves in respectful ways. (I teach kids that when something is wrong with their body – Shady says unhelpful things in their head).
There are also kids who are learning to live with temporary or permanent physical differences including; differences in the way their brain processes information, brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, spina bifida, cerebral palsy, cystic fibrosis, epilepsy, muscular dystrophy and more. I don’t believe there is anything wrong with kids who have physical differences, “cause God makes no mistakes” (Born This Way, Lady Gaga) but living with a physical difference may be the direct (physically unable to manage their behaviours) or indirect cause (emotional and mental) of their challenging behaviour.
In Maslow’s hierarchy, physical balance is covered in the base need for physiological things like food, water, shelter, oxygen, warmth. Kids act out because they are trying to solve their physiological need in a fearful way e.g. yelling at you after school because they haven’t eaten afternoon tea!
When a child is feeling genuinely happy it is unlikely that they will behave in a challenging way. However, when a child is feeling sad, angry, scared, guilty, resentful, etc they are more likely to behave in challenging ways because they are on the low road listening to Shady (their fearful self). The low road feels bad and when kids are on it, they lose their motivation to do the respectful thing, they don’t care what happens to them or what the consequence is because they already feel bad. Kids may also try to bring others down to the low road so they are not alone in their misery or they may try a “fake high” to feel better (that’s when they do something Shady to make them feel better e.g. bullying others or being manipulative).
In Maslow’s hierarchy, emotional balance is covered in the next two levels of needs which are safety & security and love & belonging. Kids act out because they are trying to get safety, security, love or belonging in fearful ways e.g. hitting their little brother because they feel resentful that he is more loved than they are.}
When kids think Sparky (loving) things about themselves, other people and life, like “I am loved, I am important, I matter to my family and my friends, I have great friends, I love my life” then they are going to behave respectfully.
When kids think and dwell on the opposite thoughts from Shady, like “No one loves me, I am not important, No one cares about me, I don’t have any friends, I hate my life” then their behaviour will reflect what they are thinking. Mental and emotional are absolutely linked!
In Maslow’s hierarchy, mental balance is covered in love & belonging and self-worth & importance. Kids act out because they are trying to get love, belonging, self-worth or importance in fearful ways e.g. being mean to another child at school because that child is better than them at reading, writing, maths and spelling.
The social part of our kids is their personality, it includes the qualities and quirks that make them unique, it is also the part of them that gets to choose their thoughts (which result in their feelings) and the part of them that interacts with others. If a child likes who they are and they enjoy their own company and can manage their own thoughts and feelings then it is unlikely that they will behave in challenging ways.
If a child doesn’t like who they are, it is going to be challenging for them to behave respectfully and manage their Shady thoughts and feelings while they are around others.
In Maslow’s hierarchy, social balance is covered in love & belonging and self-worth & importance. Kids act out because they are trying to get love, belonging, self-worth or importance in a fearful way e.g. talking back to you when you ask them if they are going to go out and play with friends because they had a fight with their neighbourhood friends the day before and are scared to face them.
Spiritual means different things to different people. In terms of our kids I could define it simply as them believing in a source of love that they have access to that gives them unconditional love, hope, courage, purpose, wisdom and help when they need it. This may be founded in their belief in God, nature, the Universe or a loving higher power (this is where the entire concept of Sparky came from). In my experience if kids (and adults) have something unconditionally loving to believe in that they can talk to and listen to, it is much easier to stay loving, hopeful and respectful.
Our spiritual self technically includes the fearful part of us too. This is because human beings are made of loving energy, fearful energy and every type of energy in between. If our kids are out of balance spiritually, it is a result of them thinking, saying and doing fearful things a lot more than they think, say and do loving things.
In Maslow’s hierarchy, spiritual balance is covered in love & belonging, self-worth & importance and the highest of our needs the belief that we are here to fulfil a purpose. Kids act out because they are trying to get love, belonging, self-worth, importance or purpose in a fearful way, e.g. always saying negative things about themselves and acting hopeless because they need you to continually tell them they are important and irreplaceable because they do not believe this.
So, where do kids learn to act out anyway?
Social psychologists argue that children behave the way they do because they have watched significant people in their life ‘role model’ that behaviour to them. Significant people most definitely include mum, dad and siblings (usually older but not necessarily) and other people too. I agree with this, however I also believe children try different ways to get themselves back in balance and whatever works they do again and again until it becomes habit. ‘Works’ doesn’t always mean they fix the problem, get themselves back in balance, meet their need and feel genuinely better. ‘Works’ could mean they have temporary relief from their imbalance by having a ‘fake high’ where they either bring other people down to the low road so they are not miserable alone (they keep acting out until someone else loses it too), or they think they feel good because they are in a position of power, they are getting lots of attention from grown-ups and they are the centre of everyone’s world.
Shady behaviour can be quite addictive for kids, just like it is for adults. Instead of managing our imbalances adults do all sorts of things to numb ourselves and avoid our issues (alcohol, drugs, junk food, social media addictions, procrastination, manipulation, bitchiness and our behaviour can be challenging too! I don’t know about you but I throw a pretty impressive tantrum when I lose it!)
Human beings have a choice, we can balance ourselves in a loving respectful way or we can try to balance ourselves and meet our needs in a fearful, disrespectful way that will never work long term. Kids are little human beings! If we want our kids to learn to manage their body, thoughts, feelings, personality and whole self then the best idea is to be a good role model and to support them with unconditional love when they need help to learn more loving and respectful ways to behave.
Enjoy your beautiful little human and remember even if they do act out it is only a small percentage of the time in reality!