By Jan Bedell, Ph.D., Master NeuroDevelopmentalist, SPED Homeschool Partner & Board Member
Behavior and character are topics parents are always interested in pursuing. The privilege and responsibility we have in raising our children in the way they should go can often be a challenging and frustrating journey. It would be easier if we knew what influenced certain behaviors and how to determine if a negative interaction with a child is a heart issue or if there is something else at the root of it all.
When thinking about the root cause of behavior issues, we must look at several different factors. Some might be more obscure than others.
What is the root cause of challenging behavior? The source of negative behavior could be metabolic, having to do with body chemistry. It could also be the sin nature we were all born with. Or, from my perspective, it could be caused by neurodevelopmental deficits. We will look mainly at neurodevelopmental causes, but the others are well worth mentioning.
- Metabolic Causes
Diet and nutrition can play a significant role in negative behavior. If the child reacts to food or the environment, it can cause a wide range of difficult behaviors like irritability, anger, and even aggression or destructiveness. This is beyond the child’s control and care should be taken to consider this as a cause since you cannot discipline this out of a child. One approach to this is to create a food diary each time you see negative behavior, especially if the behavior is uncharacteristic of the child in general. If you see a pattern in food consumed and negative behavior, try eliminating that food type and see if the behavior changes.
- Neurodevelopmental Causes
Underdeveloped brain pathways can cause challenges in receiving sensory information correctly, processing information in your short-term memory, as well as storing information for good retrieval. These, like the metabolic causes, are beyond the child’s ability to control.
Let me give you a few neurodevelopmental examples. This is by no means an exhaustive list.
- Sensory Overload: If the child is hypersensitive to touch or sound and noises or irritating touches invade the child’s sensory system, the immediate overreaction is fight or flight because the brain is interpreting these stimuli as pain. When you are in pain, you want to get away or retaliate. The result can be negative behavior which is misunderstood by people whose sensory system gives the correct messages.
- Underdeveloped Central Vision: It might be considered a negative character quality not to look a person in the eyes when you talk to them. We tend to require this of our children, especially when we try to get our point across about a behavior or character issue. When the central detail vision (how you see right in the center of your vision field) is underdeveloped, the child can move his eyes toward you but soon look like he is looking over your shoulder. You have trained him to move his eyes toward you, but since he can’t really see well in the center, the eye moves so he can look with his peripheral vision. This is often interpreted as defiance or disobedience when, in fact, it is beyond the child’s control.
- Following Directions or Staying on Task: Parents often comment that their child REFUSES to follow directions and exhibits the poor character of not staying with their work. Look no further than the inability to hold pieces of auditory information in short-term memory when you have these behavioral challenges. When children’s auditory processing is low, they literally can’t hold the pieces of the instruction together long enough to complete the request. Often, this gets them in trouble for not “obeying” or not being “diligent” when it was simply beyond their control at this point. Read more about auditory processing and attention here.
- Sin Nature
Unlike metabolic or neurodevelopmental causes of negative behavior, the sin nature CAN be controlled by the child. The discerning eye of a caring parent can determine whether they are dealing with a metabolic, neurodevelopmental, or heart issue in a particular situation.
To identify which of the three root causes of behavior or character issues you are dealing with, I suggest watching a couple of videos I recorded called Create a Positive Learning Environment Part 1 & 2 on the Brain Coach Tips YouTube Channel. These videos will help you better understand the different possible causes of negative behavior that I discussed here and how to change this for better compliance in the future.