His Word, Kids/Parenting, Soul Relationships

Decoding Your Child’s SOS – by Dr. Laura Markham

I originally shared this back on March 21, 2014. But, as I re-read this post today, I can’t help but know that God wanted me to read this on this day.

You see, I was just having a conversation with Emma today about how I felt she hasn’t been treating me with respect lately. Well, guess what, this article tells me that she is showing me she doesn’t feel enough connection, warmth and respect from me. Ouch. I will say that her love language is definitely Quality Time. She has to have that one-on-one connection with me to have her love bank filled. She needs time with just her momma doing things like reading, or painting nails, or watching her favorite program on TV. So, this weekend, we will spend some time ‘unplugged’ from the rest of the world so that my girl can get her emotional needs met. After all, as C. S. Lewis says, “Childre not a distraction from more important work. They are the most important work.”

Decoding Your Child’s SOS

“All communication is either an SOS or a care package.” — Kelly Bryson
You’ve probably heard the term “Acting out’ refer to misbehaving. It actually means to act out a feeling that you can’t express in words.

So when your three year old hits the baby, or your five year old throws a toy at you, or your seven year old slams the door, they’re acting out. You could respond with punishment. After all, the behavior is clearly unacceptable. But you would be missing the feeling that your child is finding so unbearable that he has to act it out. You would be missing your child’s SOS.

Should you overlook the “bad” behavior? Of course not. Move in to keep everyone safe. (In a perfect world, of course, you would do this BEFORE the SOS behavior. But families are made of humans, who by definition aren’t perfect. That’s ok; Love serves us better than Perfect every time.)

As you set the limit–calmly and kindly–remind yourself that there’s a reason for your child’s behavior. It may not be what you consider a good reason, but it’s her reason. And if you don’t address the need or feeling that’s motivating her behavior, you’re not giving her the help she needs to behave.

Want some examples of decoding an SOS?

  • Children who are always cranky and uncooperative usually need more sleep, more connection, a physical ailment addressed, or a safe opportunity to cry in a parent’s arms.
  • Children who compete with siblings often need to feel more connected to parents, more “seen” and valued for who they are.
  • Children who keep pushing the limits usually need to know the parent is in charge and will keep them (and everyone else) safe. (You show them this by setting limits clearly, firmly and with empathy.)
  • Children who “don’t listen” have usually been trained not to take us seriously unless we yell; they’re asking us to calm down and connect.
  • Children who are always rebelling usually need to feel more powerful, competent, and respected.
  • Children who disrespect us are showing that they don’t feel enough connection, warmth and respect from us.
  • Children who lie to us feel afraid.

What behavior bothers you most from your own child? That behavior is an SOS. Here are 7 questions to help you decode and respond.

1. What is the behavior that bothers you?

2. What’s the first thing that pops into your head about what’s behind this SOS from your child? (What need or feeling might your child be acting out? Connection? Autonomy? Sleep?)

3. What actions could you take to answer your child’s SOS? Make a list.

4. Notice how your own fear gets in the way of meeting your child’s needs. (For instance, if he’s suddenly talking baby talk, do you feel a need to correct him, or can you respond to his temporary need to be babied?) Breathe into that fear and let it go. Once we meet our kids’ needs, our child can move on. When we deny needs, the child stays stuck.

5. Make a plan to take at least one of those actions every day for a week. (It might be the same action over and over.)

6. Notice your child’s behavior change. What have you learned about his or her needs?

7. What will you do differently in the future?

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