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Do you know why your children do what they do?

Updated: May 1, 2020

Trying to understand the motivations of another person and the reasons why someone might do what he or she does, can be a futile endeavour.    After all, one can never really know the whole story of another person or what they need.  Yet, we grow believing that someone might know us better than we know ourselves. 

This is a very important idea when it comes to our children, because it appears,  we apply a different rule to them altogether.  

Perhaps we can all admit to a degree, that it is difficult enough for ourselves at times, to understand the reasons and motivations of why we do what we do.   It is interesting then, that when it comes to understandingwhy our children do what they do, we may not consider that they can offer knowledge to us, about themselves. We still largely relate with children as if we need to figure them out. Or worse, we train them into acting in certain ways that suit us more than them. 

Of course when children are very little, adults have to consider and then interpret, the child's actions in order to meet their needs.

As children grow, we can begin to let them do more self-exploration and meaning making

-  According to what they feel and think for themselves. 

Many parents today are seeking to better understand and gain a deeper awareness of their own motivations, in order to transcend their limited past. It could be said, that the philosophical dictum ‘know thyself’is more alive as a concept today, than it was in Socrates times.  

Even so, with all this self enquiry, it is still presumed that adults can interpret their children’s experiences or question why children are behaving in certain ways, without even asking the child what they feel and what they might need directly.

The Indian philosopher and sage Rabindranath Tagore declares “Don’t limit a child to your own learning, for he was born in another time”. However adults largely continue to relate to children and instruct them from what has been learnt in their own time without apprehending that the child itself holds a great deal of potential waiting to be expressed. (Excerpt from my upcoming book).

The search for the meaning of our experiences begins very early for us all, and when the outer world does not reflect our own deeper motivations in life we can become despondent with life itself.   Rather than developing a solid sense of self as children, many of us grow up insecure in our direction and actions. Often many of our experiences are left unspoken.  We fear the consequences of making utterances about what matters most or that we even matter. From our very beginnings it seems we learn to hide what we really feel in order to be loved and nurtured. We deny the feelings that we either have no way of expressing or have no safe space to explore.   As a result our behaviours, complexes and illness become the best way to communicate what we need.

It seems natural to consider,  that one will become unstable or imbalanced if the experiences of 'being in the world' are understood from a fragment of one’s potential and not a full expression.

Even with best intentions and noble attempts to understand and support children as they ask  'why a child is doing what they are doing' many adults miss the ever-present indications that lay in the child’s responses to life.  Regardless of the label we give them, it is our children’s challenges that offer us information about their important needs.  These indicators can be missed because our children reflect our unmet needs and we often cannot see this. 

A child who is cold and distant is expressing information about their need for love.

A child that is resistant and defiant is seeking to find a way to act without being controlled.

Our children communicate their own wisdom (body-mind-spirit) of what they actually need and they are trying to convey this in the best way they know how, through their actions in the world.  If we continue to misinterpret the expressions of children as ‘problems’ and expect them to grow out of certain emotional processes and behaviours without giving them tools to understand what their feelings mean to them, no matter how foreign this feeling may appear, we are holding them back. 

In over 20 years of being watchful for what children’s experiences might mean for them, I saw that the mental, physical, emotional, psychological, spiritual aspects of the child all interact and inform each other. These various themes I call the Foundational Needs, which are important to understand in the ways we relate with children. I have seen too that a child who is supported by a parent who is open to exploring their own role in their relational approaches to their children, are empowered to be themselves.

Until we start collectively considering that the child is always responding appropriately to their environment in every moment (even if we cannot see what they are responding to) we are missing vital links to supporting them as self realised individuals.

I have also come to see that unless the child is considered as a unified being who contains all they need to realise their full potential, we are placing our past limitations on them.   When we practice ways of being that put the child as central to its own development, we begin to recognise that the child contains everything within themselves that they require for their own perfect self development.   

When we are asking questions concerning our children’s motivations and behaviours we need to do so from the broadest possible model.  It has been my life’s work to bring forth a new philosophy of the child as well as theFoundational Needs Modelfor children which culminated in my doctoral degree and framesChildosophy. 

Childosophyis the name for the practical applications of my research and system of Children's Wellbeing  for parents, teachers and practitioners that represents the child's unified nature and greatest potentials. 

We can all get closer to knowing ‘why children do what they do’ by attuning with the child and imagining what they might be feeling about certain situations and how we might feel if we were in the same situation?  

  • We might ask ourselves as we take a moment to reflect  ‘I wonder what is in my child’s environment to make him/her push me away and not want affection’. 

  • Or ‘I wonder what my child might be experiencing to react with defiance and resist my every command. 

If we can make the space to enquire for ourselves as the caregiver as the first point of relating, we get closer to the child. Then as we make the space to meet the child, we can gently ask the child why they have needed to respond the way they have. Sometimes as adults however it can be difficult to be fully present to our children’s experiences and their responses, which in effect is their emotional life, especially if we are not comfortable with our own. 

In a way we all need help with this transition into the new ways of being to begin with, as the child’s emotional expression is not always easy for adults to hear. But, if we continue to project personal and collective ‘conditions’ onto our children and don’t allow them to participate in their own unfolding, they will always struggle to find meaning for themselves and as a result be a fragment of their potential.   

By regularly making the space with children to assist them to express what they are feeling and thinking about the things that they experience, they can open to explore the meaning for themselves and this will surface in its own time in its own way.

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