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“Behavior As An SOS?” (Revisited for 2019)

I could see on Jennifer’s face how discouraged she felt as she told me about her ongoing struggles with her 4 year old son and 3 year old daughter’s out of control behaviors. In her own words, “They seem to be behaving fine at school, according to teachers, but they are very disrespectful and defiant at home.”

She’s not alone in this, is she?

For both young kids and older kids, when behavior at home differs so much from behavior at school, it can be wicked confusing, frustrating and crazy-making! It can lead to relentless, disheartening power struggles and the feeling that no one understands what you’re going through.

Here’s the thing. I believe behaviors like disrespect and defiance are an SOS not an attack. I invite you to let this perspective make sense of your child's behavior. What if instead of being the PROBLEM, your child’s behavior were the CLUE?

Think back to the movie, The Wizard of Oz. The wizard appears as a big, loud, scary, head, in a blast of fire. As Dorothy and her friends cower before him, the little dog, Toto, pulls the curtain open. Behind the curtain is the “real” wizard - small, scared and insecure.

The difference between the scary wizard head and the little man behind the curtain is like the difference between your child’s behavior and your child. In other words, behind your child’s big, sometimes scary behavior is your “real” little child feeling overwhelmed.

For many kids, especially those that are stress-sensitive, school can be a socially, emotionally and intellectually demanding environment. It can take everything they have every day to navigate it. By the time they get home, they’re hungry, tired, overwhelmed and spent - and they act out to communicate this because they don’t have the words.

When you notice that behavior at home differs radically from behavior at school, let it be a CLUE. Then “Open the Curtain”. This changes your focus from trying to control or curb the behavior to addressing what’s driving the behavior. It allows you to feel more connected to your child and can empower you to come up with more effective parenting solutions to help your child.

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