Understanding Your Baby's Behaviour
"Why doesn't my 2-year-old child behave like my neighbour's child who is so obedient?"
“Why does my child throw his toys around and start crying every time I get on a phone call?”
If similar questions are bothering you, then you’ve landed at the right place. A child’s upbringing doesn’t have to be a challenge for parents. Just like everything else in life, the more you start understanding your baby’s behaviour the merrier is the process.
Being a parent in today’s time means being able to efficiently balance work with the demands of bringing up your children. While every child is unique in many ways, children exhibit certain behaviour which can be linked to common thought processes.
We’re here to bring you up to speed with understanding your child’s behaviour and this starts with understanding the intent and the cause of their misbehaviour.
A child's inappropriate behaviour should be viewed in the context of the relationship between the child and the recipient of the behaviour. A behaviour is not a problem if there is no observer / recipient. A child who screams his head off is not considered having a behavioural problem until somebody has to deal with the behaviour or the consequences.
Behaviour is relative and subjective to each individual receipt. Hence, each recipient's reaction to a particular behaviour would vary. For instance, a child who refuses to pick up his toys may be considered mildly misbehaving by one parent but exhibiting unbearable behaviour to another.
Infants and toddlers react to the here and now. When children want something, they want it now or they may scream, bite, kick or nag. They often cannot appreciate the long term implications of their behaviour.
Three main interrelated factors often help shape children's behaviour. Let’s look at each of them.
First, we look at heredity or a child's temperament. Temperament or a child's genetic make-up, explains why a person behaves in certain ways in response to stimuli. Emotionality, activity level and sociability seem related to the development of undesirable behaviour.
Emotionality refers to an infant's response to events in his environment. The sight of a stranger or being spoken to by a stranger may upset one child but may not affect another.
Activity level refers to the energy the child displays in vigorous movement and activity. An active child will find it more difficult to accept the physical boundaries set by parents and caregivers than an infant with low activity level.
Sociability refers to an infant's inclination for interaction with people. A very sociable child who craves attention all the time will more likely demand social contact that an infant who only demands for attention when he is hungry or wet.
Perhaps the most important factor contributing to the likelihood of inappropriate behaviour. Parents' work schedules, parents' marital problems, and parenting styles may affect the degree, frequency and intensity of inappropriate behaviour. Behavioural problems have been a constant complain of working parents. This is because children constantly craves for parent’s attention; parents are their first set of friends. Insufficient time and inattention due to fatigue are the major contributing factors among working parents.
Role of learning and experience
A child learns to interact from the people and the surrounding environment. The interaction between the main caregivers and the infant in the first few months of life often determines how he would react and interact with others around him in the following years. For example, if nagging, crying or screaming will likely result in a sweet, chances are his inappropriate behaviour will persist, evolving into different forms as the child grows.
When children misbehave, it is likely that there is an agenda for their inappropriate behaviour. There are four main objectives in misbehaviour. They are:
Attention seeking - sometimes children misbehave to attract attention
Revenge - children may seek revenge by being spiteful or doing harmful things
Power seeking - children will often challenge their parents to satisfy their desire for power and control
Helplessness - children who think of themselves as incompetent or unable to perform tasks often react with inappropriate behaviour. When children are overprotected, they easily become discouraged and helpless.
Now all that is understood, but how does one deal with misbehaviour? You may ask. Here’s how - Learning to recognize the purpose of the inappropriate behaviour will help you know why children misbehave and hence manage them accordingly. Your feelings, reaction and the consequences of the behaviour are some ways you can recognize the nature of the misbehaviour.
1. Recognise the misbehaviour by how you feel about it
Attention seeking makes you feel annoyed
Power seeking makes you feel angry
Revenge makes you feel hurt
Helplessness makes you feel despondent
2. Observe how you react to the misbehaviour
Attention seeking makes you remind, coax, nag and explain
Power seeking makes you fight or give in
Revenge makes you retaliate to get even
Helplessness makes you solve the problem yourself
3. Observe the consequences for the child who displays the misbehaviour
Attention seeking causes people to look at and speak to the child
Power seeking causes people to stand over and supervise the child
Revenge causes people to punish the child
Helplessness causes people to look after and protect the child
In the following scenarios, ask yourself how you feel as the parent, how you feel about the parent's reaction and what the purpose of the child's inappropriate behaviour was.
Mother: Wasn't that a lovely bath, Ayaan? Now you are clean and dry. There you are, Mummy will put you on your bed for a while. (Toddler Vivaan comes along and punches Ayaan.)
Mother: No, Vivaan! You mustn't hit your baby brother like that. You're a naughty boy.
This scenario illustrates revenge.
Vivaan : Mummy, I can't find my power ranger.
Mother : It is in your toy box where you always keep it.
Vivaan : I've looked in there. It wasn't there.
Mother : Go and look again. It was there this morning.
Vivaan : (Walking from the toy box) I still can't find it, Mummy.
Mother For goodness sake (goes to the box). Here it is, just where I've said it'll be. Why is it that no one can find anything around here except me? You're hopeless.
This scenario illustrates helplessness.
Mother : Come on, Vivaan. It's time to put away your toys now. (Pause), Vivaan, put your toys away please. (Pause). Vivaan, Mummy will smack you if you don't put away your toys. Come on, I'll help. There, I've put the truck in the box. In it goes …….
This scenario illustrates power seeking.
Mother : I'll just ring Aunt Shivani and arrange to go shopping with her (dials the phone). Hello? Oh Shivani, its Aditi here, How about going for a shopping trip this week? (Son starts to cry and bang his toys.) Hold on a minute, Aditi (puts aside the phone). Stop it, Vivaan! That's being naughty. Mummy's on the phone (puts down the phone). Here's your power ranger. (Returns to phone). I'm sorry, Shivani. Vivaan always does that when I'm on the phone. (Noise starts again). Oh dear, he broke his toy. Shivani, can I ring you back when he's asleep? Bye.
This scenario illustrates attention seeking.
It is always important, when considering misbehaviour, to understand the factors involved that resulted in the misbehaviour. Knowing why your child exhibits inappropriate behaviour and what his objectives are will help you make better decisions about what to do when you encounter these behaviours.