Saturday, July 21, 2012

Behavior Tools: Understanding Behavior

Merriam-Webster dictionary defines behavior as "the manner of conducting oneself."
Simply put, behavior is what we say or do in any given situation. 
And what we do or say is always influenced by something else. We do what we do for a reason. 

Think about that for a second. Everything we do or say, we do for a reason. 
Sometimes those reasons are obvious...
I eat because I'm hungry. 
I tie my shoe so it won't fall off when I'm walking.
I wear a jacket so I won't get as cold.

Sometimes those reasons are not as when we say something mean to a friend when we are feeling hurt or angry or defensive. 

The point is, there is always something behind the way we choose to behave, and that is just as true for kids as it is for adults. 

Understanding the why behind a child's behavior can help us to behave more appropriately in response. The why or function of a behavior can typically be generalized into two categories. We do things because we want to obtain something tangible (i.e. attention, validation, item) or we do it to avoid or escape something (i.e. avoid shame, attention, punishment, etc.)

As adults, we have had a lot of experience and practice with behaving in certain ways to either get what we want or avoid things we don't want. Even still, we make mistakes and don't always make the best choice.

The thing with kids is that they haven't had those years of experience and practice to always know what the best choice of behavior is in any given situation. As such, they are constantly trying out different behaviors to see what works and what doesn't. If a behavior gets the result they are looking for, then they are very likely to continue using that behavior to get what they want- even if it is considered inappropriate by adult standards. 

That's where the importance of teaching comes in. We can't expect kids just to know how best to behave- even if we've told them or punished them for a certain undesirable behavior. So often I hear the phrase: "They know better." I'm sure I've even used this phrase before. But the truth is, if they are still using a negative behavior to get what they want, then they really don't know better. And that's probably because we haven't given them the right kind of teaching and practice to learn a better behavior. 

For me, understanding the why of behavior helps me to be more patient with teaching appropriate behavior. When I understand that B (for a boy) is really shy and gets anxiety in whole group situations, I recognize that his behaviors of laying down on the rug and poking other kids is a way for him to escape the anxiety that he feels. Perhaps then, instead of being offended that he is not paying attention to my lesson and constantly nagging him to sit up and keep his hands to himself, I can focus on teaching him strategies to participate appropriately and deal with his anxiety, while also doing what I can to make him more comfortable in that situation. It completely changes the way I handle the situation, which is the only thing I have control over anyways. 

Behavior Tools is a series about understanding and managing behavior with young children. The more we understand children and their behavior, the better we are able to teach them how to make good choices and build a solid foundation of self worth and confidence. There is no one-size-fits-all answer to helping a child learn appropriate behavior, which is why we need a lot of different tools and strategies to draw upon when we work with young children. 

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