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Want behaviour to get better? STOP focusing on it!

challenging behaviour in children

Let’s play a game. Complete this sentence for me:

My favourite part of parenting is__________________.

You can repeat this until you’ve run out of ways to end it.

I’ll grab a coffee while you play.

Okay, I’m back. Now, this is the part of the game where I guess what you didn’t write! I bet you DIDN’T write:

  • Dealing with meltdowns multiple times a day
  • Getting called names by your usually loving child (or teen)
  • Giving your child a consequence and them going ballistic, making things ten (20, 50, 1000) times worse
  • Trying strategy after strategy and getting nowhere (except creating more difficult behaviours)
  • Never-ending battles when all you’re trying to do is get your child to do the simplest things (get dressed, brush teeth, tidy their things away, etc.)

I could go on, but I won’t.

child having a meltdown

Parenting can be such a rewarding experience, but when you’re trying to manage challenging behaviours in your children day in and day out, and nothing you do works, it becomes exhausting, overwhelming, stressful, and, let’s face it, not fun.

At all.

If this is you, know that you’re not alone.

The thing is, as long as you’re busy dealing with the behaviours that you see, the chances of things changing for the better is slim. Don’t get me wrong. Life might get better for a few days or a few weeks. But the changes never last.


Because what you SEE – the behaviours that are driving you crazy are NEVER the REAL problem.

What you SEE - the behaviours that are driving you crazy - are NEVER the REAL problem. The feelings and emotions behind them ARE.

Cindy Charest - Writer, Psychologist & Parenting Specialist

Children, the feel good masters

Children can teach us a thing or two about feeling good.

As babies, they only had to cry, and boom, grown-ups appear and solve their problems. Life is awesome again.

As toddlers, this starts happening less and less. Grown-ups aren’t doing everything they can to make us happy. And that’s worrying. So, what’s a Toddler to do? Learn new behaviours to try to get what we want.

toddler tantrum

Unfortunately, sometimes those new behaviours aren’t exactly socially desirable. And they get triggered every time life isn’t going their way and then aren’t happy. Which is quite often.

Toddlers have a very strong survival instinct. And they’re not afraid to use it!

In our modern-day life, most danger isn’t real. But the survival instinct is so strong that it kicks in whenever your toddler, child, tween, or teen feels one of those “negative” emotions.

For them, Mission Feel Good (and survive to tell the tale) is activated, and they will kick, hit, throw and scream their way to getting what they want. Sometimes these behaviours are down right challenging!

Looking beyond behaviour

I know life would be easier if children just behaved the way they should. And by should, let’s be honest. What we really mean is: “the way adults want them to.” But this attitude does our children (and teens) a giant disservice.

Behaviour is a result of something not being right and your child (or teen) trying to make it right in the only way they know how. Until they learn new behaviour (and can do them when stressed), the two of you are caught in a never-ending dance that sucks.

It sucks for them because it usually doesn’t work (or feel good). It sucks for you because it’s really unpleasant, it hurts and makes you feel like you’re a terrible parent. It sucks for both of you because you’re stuck.

You can get unstuck. You can change the dance. How? By looking beyond the behaviour to find the feeling. Once you find the feeling, you look to find what might have caused the feeling.

When you do this, you start breaking the cycle. And life can start feeling a whole lot happier, calmer and fun!

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