Behavior is purposeful and communicative!
Let’s talk about the need to function and how we communicate our needs.
In those moments that we are too tired to decide the right move, or are simply confused on what is recommended by the American Pediatrics… STOP and just ask, “What does my baby NEED?” A baby or young child does NOT act maliciously. We ALL act by our needs.
A friend once told me a story her mother told her of when she was an infant. The mother had dressed her up for her first outing with the mom’s old-time best friends, and she was feeling so proud to show off her new sweet angel baby. Well, the baby cried and screamed and did not stop the entire outing. The mother was beside herself on what “went wrong” with her baby. She apologized to her friends, and felt embarrassed and frustrated. She tried feeding, burping, changing, and snuggling her baby. She got home to realize that some sharp metal pieces from the infant’s new dress were poking and scratching her side the entire time. Obviously, hearing the story we feel bad for the baby. We wonder how long it would take us to realize what was wrong. I see it as a reminder that EVERY behavior is for a NEED. WHAT IS MY BABY TELLING ME? WHAT DOES MY BABY NEED? What am I missing? Here is your chance to think about and even take note of some behaviors that you see, and then distinguish what your child is communicating. An incredibly inspirational and knowledgeable mentor of mine, DanaKae Bonahoom, M.A. is redefining early education with her theories that “All Behavior Has a Communication” 1. Also, by “Following the Child’s Need” 1 she adds that YOU will best support your child up their developmental ladder. What does it mean when your baby turns their head away from your spoon? Perhaps, “I’m full” or “I need a drink next”. It can be obvious or it may take a minute to determine the communication from behavior. It is worth the time to distinguish your baby’s need so you can attend to them fully and effectively. Let’s try thinking this out…
1- Think of a behavior
2- Determine if the need is due to A) a medical reason, or B) developmental reason.
3- Respond with an understanding of your child’s NEED, and it will be with more love and patience than you thought you had in you.
What is your baby telling you when they are putting every object in their mouth? Their fingers, toys, etc? If they are about 4 months maybe it is a typical first sign of teething? Is your baby drooling more than usual and possibly biting? Maybe a tooth will pop through next week! Perhaps your baby is not teething and is just hungry? Or perhaps, your baby is just in this stage of oral-motor development. This is the first stage of physical and cognitive development when they are learning through their senses…. and their mouth is a wonderful way to explore how something feels and tastes as they learn about it! They are also strengthening oral-motor skills used for breathing, sucking, chewing, swallowing, and babbling with this mouthing behavior. Now you can support them through this stage and need!
There are more difficult behaviors to differentiate the need!
What about when your baby is reaching for the door and climbing over your shoulder as you try to lay them down for bed? You know they are tired and it is the usual time for them to fall asleep. Lay baby back down… maybe they are thinking of an activity that they want to practice but here is an example of when we need to set limits. Maybe baby is overtired and is starting to act in fight or flight mode. If I lay my baby down by this time, he will fall asleep because he accepts the limit as if to say, “yes, this is what I needed.”
When your toddler is banging their head on the floor or wall? Possibly that “my head hurts”, “my teeth hurt”, or “my ear is hurting and this pressure seems to relieve my pain for a moment”. OR, perhaps the “last time I accidentally banged my head to see what would happen, you ran over and gave a lot of attention?!” Babies seek attention, so they quickly learn that this is one way to get you by their side. What can you do to resolve this issue? Try to ignore the behavior if it is for a response and then jump in to play when your baby has changed focus. Redirect with a teething toy or teething tablets if you think his/her teeth are hurting.
If your baby throws food on the ground from their highchair? “Oh wait, mommy, I need to get out of this seat so I can poop.” That happens in our house, often and usually at unfortunate times. And every time I think, I knew your body needed something! They are still learning how to react to their needs by connecting their body and mind. Not to mention, they cannot communicate this need effectively yet.
When your young child is having a major meltdown and is screaming and flailing their body around: Think, “What am I missing?” You possibly missed something that your infant or child was focused on and maybe you didn't communicate the transition effectively. Tantrums typically happen when we are too busy to read their INTENT and then don't help our child move on from it. This is tough because we don't want to attend to a negative behavior but we always want our children to feel heard. If they do not feel heard and understood they can become frustrated and throw fits. We are lessening their confidence in their ability to communicate with us. STOP. We can help them communicate and understand their desires and intent, thus ultimately steering clear of some possible tantrums. Sometimes I say, “Ohhhh, you wanted to push the buttons?” Wait and see if they calm down and feel heard. Then I say, “I see you wanted to press the buttons, we like buttons! Now we are walking to the car. All done with the buttons. Let’s go find more buttons. Can you press the button to unlock our car?” We can constantly work to read our children's intent and VOICE it for them! Then when needed, help to either guide them through the transition or redirect. We can effectively redirect our child’s focus and energy into a positive and appropriate activity. This stops the negative behavior but also guides them into what they CAN do to fulfill their interests and desires appropriately, which will also fulfill a need. This will take years of practice for our little ones to master. Keep at the voicing and redirecting and you can avoid at least a few tantrums!
What about when your child is not interested or engaged in social interaction? Consider how stressful the environment is for them. Have you prepared your child for what to expect and modeled appropriate behavior? I might whisper, “We’re going to the library which is a quiet place to sit and listen to stories and sing together.” Or I might say, “This park is a great place for your body to run and climb!”
When your child cannot sit or stand still? Ummm, usually mine has to go to the bathroom. There are other needs with this behavior but one example is potty needs. We have to give cues and not force them to go potty. They have a hidden need here, too. One, I need to connect my brain to my body and practice being aware of what my body is doing. And two, I need to feel independent in the understanding that my body needs to use the restroom and that I need to move my body towards the restroom and perform this complex multi-step task as a responsible child. Phew! We can initiate this awareness in our preschooler by saying, “Ohhh, your body is really wiggly. I wonder what it needs?”
These are only examples. Similar behaviors could be communicating different needs. I hope my examples offer you new strategies as you guide your baby or child. Go on and determine which strategies work for you!
Without meeting our needs and the needs of our growing children, we would be allowing dysfunction and a lack of regulation to occur in development. Remember, ALL behavior is purposeful and communicative!
I want to thank Developmental Specialist, DanaKae Bonahoom M.A., for inspiring me to stop and support appropriately and not just routinely. I have attained a greater understanding of connecting with children by taking on her perspectives and applying her theories.
- Registered Trademarks of DanaKae Bonahoom M.A.
Developmental Milestones – Part 3
October 4th, 2014
Before we move on to the third developmental milestone, confirm that your baby has mastered the first two. Is your baby showing interest with a few-second gaze? Does your baby turn eyes or head towards sounds? Will your baby recover from distress after less than 20 minutes of your support? Then your baby is showing signs of self-regulation! Next, is your baby responding to your behavior, perhaps with a smile or with frustration? Will your baby recover from distress with your help within 15 minutes? Then your baby is showing signs of forming a relationship and attachment! Remember, a baby will master these milestones one by one before we help them to fully achieve the next.
Now, the third developmental milestone is intentional-two-way communication. It is important to model good communication from the start, as it is a life skill that they observe from the beginning. Be aware of your tone, expressions, gaze, and vocalizations and think of how your baby is perceiving them. How do we read and respond to our baby and also how do they interpret and respond to us? Simple interactions with baby using sounds, words, or just expressions is a great start in building communication. When they start to anticipate your play and responses they are reading your cues and communication signals. Try tickling and waiting for baby to respond and see them anticipate your next move before tickling those sweet toes again. This is a very rewarding time as baby starts to interact with you as well as respond and connect to other familiar faces in the environment.
These first developmental milestones are key in developing a lifelong interest in surroundings, people and for continued learning. As the primary caregivers, you are the primary play partners. You are the number one hero and role model! Watch as these simple moments warm your heart and hopefully inspire you to be the best you can be, for them and for you!
Developmental Milestones – Part 2
Developmental Milestones – Part 1
Understanding some key developmental milestones is essential in understanding your child’s needs as they grow.
The first milestone an infant achieves is self-regulation and interest in the world. Self-regulation is how we control our impulses. It develops in part from the support we offer in helping our baby understand the world. When we respond and meet the needs of an infant we are showing them how to regulate and cope and understand the abundance of input around them! They begin to self-regulate appropriately with their surroundings and recover from feelings of distress or discomfort. Guide your baby to recover from stress by speaking in a calm tone. Sing a song or simply offer comfort with your embrace. Try to connect with your baby and share your surroundings with them. They are learning so much through their senses from the very beginning. Make it your job to figure out what they are sensing and communicating and then respond with your heart.
Your love will help them to master this first stage of development.
I hope you feel inspired to respond and connect as your baby begins this beautiful life 🙂
Also, I enjoyed this article on ways to bond with your new baby, check it out!