In part one of this post, I explained that behavior happens for a reason. A child's behavior is motivated by his or her thoughts or emotions or events in the environment. When a child acts out in an unwanted manner, it is important for parents to remember that the behavior is being triggered by something happening in the child’s mind or environment (e.g., they were picked on at school or their stomach hurts).
An important skill parents can develop to discover motivations for their children's behavior is curiosity. In parenting, curiosity means taking the time to slow down, play detective, be open to any available new information, and momentarily suspend judgement.
To reduce unwanted behavior, it is important that parents have a curious mindset, because this prevents them from jumping to conclusions or judging too quickly. A major factor in making unwanted behavior worse is assessing the problem too quickly and missing potential cues that could have calmed the child down and remedied the situation. Thus, being curious allows parents to have better insights into the puzzle of unwanted behavior. Curiosity allows parents to listen to the words of their child on a deeper level and to more fully observe their child's body movements, facial expressions, and behavior.1
In addition, parents can ask themselves a few easy questions that will help get them into a curious mindset: What’s going on in my child’s mind right now? What just happened around my child? What was I doing just now that could have impacted my child? Asking and answering these questions allows parents to create room in their minds to receive new information. With this new information, parents are better equipped to take the action necessary to meet their child's needs.
It is helpful for parents to practice curiosity even when they are not with their child. They can do this by taking a few seconds to think about what their child might be thinking and feeling in the moment, wherever they might be. Try practicing right now to prime your mind into being curious. As you develop greater skill in being curious, you might be surprised at what you discover. You may even discover new, more wonderful sides of your child that you have never encountered before. That is the beauty of being curious!
In the last part of this post, I will explain a few ways to help you intervene in the moment to help your child choose wanted behaviors when they have a difficult time calming down. We will look at the five emotions and how labeling them for your child is helpful for avoiding unwanted behaviors.
1. Ideas adapted from Winnicott's theory of parenting: Winnicott, D. (1960). The theory of the parent-child relationship, International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 41:585