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What is Your Child Communicating?

Do you wonder what your child is trying to communicate through their behavior? All behavior is communication. Children don’t do things just to do them. Below are four things your child may be communicating with their behavior.


1. Your child wants attention (good or bad).

This can be your child asking for your attention appropriately or doing something they know they’re not supposed to do just so they can have your attention when you correct their behavior.


If your child is misbehaving to get your attention, here are some things you can do:

Give them a larger amount of attention when they do something well or when they ask for your attention appropriately.

Over give attention to the good things. Give attention immediately and then back off to make them wait for a certain amount of time.

Ignore the negative behavior as much as possible.

2. They can’t have something they want or they can’t do what they want.

Do your kids ever get frustrated and yell, scream or stomp their feet when you tell them no to something they want? Do they continue to argue as to why they should get what they want?

If this is the cause of your child misbehaving, you can give them options of things they can have or do. For example, my son asked to watch a movie the other day, but the answer was no. He cried and argued for a bit, but then I gave him options of other things that he could do. He picked one and went on to do that activity.


If your child is misbehaving because they can’t have or do something they want, here are a few things you can try:

Ask why they think they can’t have it.

Give choices of what they can do.

If they argue, tell them why they can’t have something and leave it at that. You can say you are going to ignore them if they keep arguing.


3. You tell your child or ask them to do something you need them to do and they don’t want to do it.

Have you ever asked your child to do something such as turn the TV off, put down their electronic device, do the dishes, etc. and they reacted poorly? They may run away, stomp, scream, etc.


If your child is misbehaving because they don’t want to do something they have been asked to do, here are a few things you can try:

Set up routines and schedules so they know what is expected.

Write down your schedule for the whole day in a way that your child can see it and understand what comes next in their day.

Set consequences if they don’t do it. Ask for their opinion on what these consequences should be. Remember they can offer an opinion on the consequence but you have the power to make the final decision.


For Example: if your child has a hard time going to bed at night, making an evening routine can be extremely helpful. You can make a ‘picture schedule’ or ‘written schedule’ on paper or you can download an app and use that. I like to use the app “Visual Schedules and Social Stories.” In this app, you can create multiple different schedules such as morning routines, evening routines, cleaning your room, etc. The evening routine may include picking up their room, getting things ready for the next day, putting on pajamas, brushing teeth, reading, and then going to bed. Schedules can also be found online. If you Google “Evening routine schedule” or “Bedtime routine schedule” multiple schedules will pop up.


4. They have uncomfortable feelings about their body and they need to fix it but they may not even understand why.

Sometimes kids’ bodies just don’t feel right, and they don’t know how to express it, or they don’t know exactly what’s wrong or how to fix it.


For example: My son says that most of his clothes are uncomfortable and make him itchy. To fix this I cut the tags out of the clothes that were bugging him. He also doesn’t like wearing long-sleeved shirts, so we roll his sleeves or just buy short-sleeved shirts. This was not something that he just said the first time it happened. He cried and screamed every time he was asked to put a shirt on that was uncomfortable. It took some time before we were able to figure out what was bothering him.


The way you can tell if it’s a sensory issue versus just a tantrum is what happens when you remove the thing that’s bothering them, or you give them the sensory input they need. If the misbehavior stops immediately after fixing what is bothering them then it is sensory. If they continue to misbehave there is something else causing the behavior.

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