Like most human beings, children are not very straightforward about their emotions. Especially when they are very small, they simply do not have the words to talk about their feelings, and even as they grow older, feelings can be so complex and subconscious that they cannot voice what is bothering them.
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- Secretive behavior: When your child starts hiding products of their mischief, or wounds, there is reason to be concerned. In either case, your child fears your reaction, either because they think you won’t believe them when they tell you what really happened (this often occurs in cases of abuse), or they think you’ll be angry or tell them ‘I told you so’. In any case, what your child needs now is understanding and lots of love. Even if your child has painted a postmodern version of the Sistine Chapel on your walls, and is now trying to hide up in fear of the consequences, what your child needs most now is a hug and a listening ear. It might be counterintuitive if they’ve gotten into all kinds of mischief, but what a child needs most, even if they’ve been erroneous, is love.
- Lying: A narrative lie here and there is not an issue, quite on the contrary. Making up stories about things that happened can be a way for your child to voice his inner fantasy world, to create a narrative and to play with language. However, if your child lies about wounds on their body, or ‘misbehavior’, there is reason to be concerned. In both cases, as with the point mentioned above, this can mean that they are scared of the consequences or fear your reaction. Again, the remedy here is lots and lots of love, being there for them, not judging and letting them know that you care, unconditionally.
- Aggression: Like lying, scanning the scope of one’s physical strength and the occasional aggressive tendency is often quite normal. Especially in preverbal children, biting and hitting is not something to be worried about, as it is often a means to show overwhelming emotion (which can - quite strangely - even be joy), in this case, it is a matter of handing your child the right way to express his or her emotions: “I see you are very happy that your friend came over to play, instead of biting her, you can give her a hug”, make sure to model the right behavior and not to get frustrated or scold your child. If the aggressive behavior persists and occurs frequently, you might consider if your child is struggling with deeper underlying emotions. Aggression can be a reaction to verbal or physical aggression by caregivers, it can also be a reaction to change or grief. Talk to your child if you think this might be the case. Sleeptalking can be very effective in this situation. Reading books and watching media about what lives in your child’s mind can be an effective way to establish communication.
- Seemingly endless, recurrent tantrums: Tantrums are another part of growing up. Frequency and scale of the tantrum depend highly on the demeanor of your child, and on the issues he or she is dealing with. If your child is throwing tantrums all the time (eg daily), and they last very long, it might be time to step in. First, make sure that the tantrums aren’t due to food issues, certain dyes and additives can create extreme behavior in small children, as can food intolerances (gluten or dairy). Secondly, figure out whether there’s a rhythm to your child’s tantrums, if they stop/decrease in frequency if your child gets some sleep during the day, or an extra snack between mealtimes. Tantrums can also occur if your child is indoors too much or lacks connection, make sure his ‘cup is full’: that you spend enough time connecting as a family. Don’t get overwhelmed during your child’s tantrum. It may seem violent and intolerable even, but all your child needs now is your presence.
- Change in Demeanor: A sudden change in your child’s behavior and character is definitely alarming. If your otherwise happy child suddenly becomes silent, or your outgoing son becomes timid, dig into what is happening in his life to find out what is going on. Your child can be reacting in this way to a change, or as a result of grief or it can be a reaction to abuse.
All of these behaviors will only be strengthened by harsh, punitive measures. When a child lashes out, all he is looking for is love and understanding. It may be hard if you don’t understand your child’s behavior, but looking into the underlying reasons may give you the compassion and empathy you need to remain calm and caring. If you are struggling with these types of behavior and don’t seem to be able to remain positive, seek out help in your community or online. Feel free to drop a line below if this is your case.