You and your child's behavior

There are few areas that raise more concern among parents than their child's behavior. While their pediatrician may be able to prescribe an antibiotic to cure a sore throat or an ear infection, solutions for childhood behavior problems are not nearly as clear-cut, nor is there a consensus on the best approach to discipline.

By definition, behavior is simply verbal and nonverbal communication. It is the conduct, actions, and words that children employ - a signal with which they express their thoughts, feelings, needs and impulses. It is judged as to whether it meets social, cultural, developmental and age-appropriate standards. Behavior can be positive or negative, impulsive or planned, predictable or unpredictable, consistent or inconsistent and it can elicit a wide range of positive or negative responses from others.

Through her behavior, your child may be trying to communicate messages like: "That's too difficult for me. . . . I'm afraid of failure. . . . I'm afraid of disappointing you. . . . I'm bored. . . . I'm tired. . . . I'm afraid of being rejected. . . . I want you to play with me. . . . I need you. . . . I want to please you. . . . I love you. . . . I want you to pay attention to me."

Attention, of course, is one of the most important things that children desire and seek from their parents. The attention they most want is the message that they are loved, valued, accepted and respected. Children will go to great extremes for the feeling that unconditional love is there for them.

Children will do whatever it takes to get recognition and to have their needs met. They quickly learn which kinds of behavior get their parents to respond to them and meet their needs, and if positive behavior doesn't work, they will turn to the negative. Even if their misbehavior gets them a negative reaction (such as being scolded), any recognition is better than none, in the eyes of children.

Behavior, then, does not occur in isolation. It is a form of communication, a way to express needs and feelings, and is influenced by a child's desires, temperament, and ability to adapt, as well as by her mother's and father's parenting style, family situation, and various stresses and transitions - from a minor illness to starting a new school year.

You and Your Child's Discipline
During the school-age years, children are developing rapidly, and in many ways they are trying to understand the world around them, face new demands, deal with success and failure, and communicate with their siblings, parents and increasingly with their peers. In many cases these changes can lead to problems. Just as the middle years offer endless opportunities for children to learn and to meet new challenges, so, too, they provide an equal number of chances for them to make mistakes, to achieve and succeed, and to question or challenge parental values, rules and attitudes. Proper parental discipline is a way to teach children what behavior is appropriate in which circumstance, or how to interact in a socially acceptable manner.

Here, discipline does not imply punishment or scolding. It means "to educate." Proper discipline teaches children to live in a safe, civilized and harmonious manner with themselves and others. There are some essential elements to disciplining well, including correctly understanding the child's needs and abilities (going beyond the concrete, actual behavior), communicating effectively, and using positive and negative reinforcement appropriately.

Three Types of Behavior
Some parents find it helpful to consider three general kinds of behavior:

Source: American Academy of Pediatrics