Behaviors, no matter how small or large, are a form of communication. Behavior is the first way babies learn to communicate their needs, like crying for a diaper change or nuzzling to be fed. It is the baby’s way of understanding what’s going on around them. As babies grow, they take those behaviors with them and learn social cues about how to expand communication skills using behaviors until they can use words. Even as they mature and can speak, non-verbal communication often speaks louder and reveals more than words do.
When a child displays a certain behavior, parents or caretakers must assess why the child is displaying that behavior. Parents can determine these non-verbal communications by asking themselves some of these questions:
- What specific behavior is the child exhibiting?
- Is this behavior negative or positive to the parent/caretaker and the child?
- Is this behavior dangerous?
- Is this child safe, and does the child perceive that they are safe?
- Is this child in danger but perceives that they are safe?
- Is this child purposefully endangering or harming themselves or others?
- Is this child purposefully or accidentally damaging property?
- Is this child able to stop this behavior upon being asked?
- Is this child unable to stop this behavior upon being asked, needing someone to intervene if it gets too dangerous for the child?
If you’re able to determine that child and the behavior is safe, it’s easier to discuss and understand why. If the child or the behavior is unsafe and unwilling or unable to stop the behavior, it may be time to ask for help from a doctor, therapist, or, in extreme cases, law enforcement.
Non-Verbal Communication Explored
Reading non-verbal communication can be tricky. If you’re able to determine a child’s behavior and risk from the questions above, next is asking why the child is behaving this way. Parents should remember that, unless there is a serious safety or mental health concern, there’s usually no harm in a child exhibiting strange behaviors.
If a child is showing a safe behavior that seems odd to the parent, lovingly ask why they do it. If the child has a good bond with the parent or caretaker, they may explain it and invite you to watch or join. Different textures and sensory preferences will inspire some children to begin or continue a specific behavior. In others, certain behaviors can be indicators of a mental health concern. For example, if a child shows signs of obsessive-compulsive disorder, they may engage in behaviors like compulsory tapping, a need for consistent routine, or involuntary movements.
If a child is screaming or crying, a parent may note that something is immediately wrong with the child. A parent’s natural response may be to rush over to them and try to console them. This is where the parent can again assess, are they physically hurt? Are they in emotional distress? What are they trying to communicate by crying, and what may have led them to communicate this way?
If a child has decided they will not come out of their room and isolate themselves, what is this child communicating? Often when children isolate, there are negative feelings present, and there is a reason that a previously social child would refuse to come out. It’s up to the parent or guardian to explore the behavior and determine whether it’s innocent—like attachment to a new video game—or a budding mental health problem.
Pain-Based and Negative Behavior
Negative behaviors, especially in children, are often the result of a child genuinely doing their best given their social-emotional skills, decision-making skills, processing, and ability to communicate. Yes, they may act negatively, and that negative behavior will have consequences, but most children displaying negative behaviors act on learned pain-based experiences.
Pain-based behaviors are the result or reaction to something which has caused a child emotional distress. For many children, the perceived freedom of choice negative behaviors allow can almost induce happiness. In the case of children who self-harm, the physical pain resulting from the self-harm helps them feel in control. They may not be able to fight or change what is happening around them, so their only form of communication is pain-based non-verbal communication. While this behavior gives a semblance of control, it also has consequences.
Healing From the Trauma of Negative Behaviors
The best thing to do for a child displaying chronic negative behaviors is to get them help. Displaying negative behaviors is sometimes the only way a child knows how to ask for help and needs the parent or guardian to provide attention. The child may not have the skills to fix whatever is wrong and may feel hopeless or angry enough to display negative behaviors. Finding a doctor, therapist, or support group can turn a child’s negative behavior into a positive change.
Understanding what your child is communicating through their behaviors can be challenging and frustrating, especially when the behavior they’re using to communicate has consequences a parent doesn’t want for their child. When children communicate with negative behaviors, it may be time for the parents to intervene and help them beyond addressing the specific behavior. For help identifying your teen girl’s behavior, call Havenwood Academy now. At Havenwood Academy, we understand that teens may not be aware of experiencing unspoken trauma or mental health issues. These unspoken problems will often be communicated by undesirable behavior, leading the parents to become frustrated. We can help your teen learn to communicate in safe, effective ways here at Havenwood Academy. Our professional and experienced staff can offer therapy and support to teen girls learning to communicate and have a better relationship with themselves and those around them. Don’t wait; call us today at (435) 586-2500.
Think Havenwood Might Be For You?
We encourage any visitors considering placing their daughter in treatment to fill out our online assessment as soon as possible. This two minute form will give our admissions team all the information needed to determine if your daughter is a good fit for our program.