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Behavior, emotions, and kids, oh my!

February 9, 2021

Well, happy February. I’m back after a brief hiatus where I was preparing for all-things parenting courses. But, I’m back and ready to talk about some important issues we’re all facing as parents.

Often, I get questions from parents like…

  • Is this 3-year old behavior? 12 year-old behavior? 16 year-old behavior?
  • Is this because of trauma?
  • Is this because of transition?
  • Is this because of distance learning?

I get it. If we can explain it, it feels more manageable. But, I want you to begin to think about a few new ideas. Over the next several issues, I’m going to review some core concepts to deal with BIG feelings and TOUGH behaviors. Here they are for those of you that want a sneak peek:

  • Behavior as a way of communicating
  • Emotions and Co-regulation
  • Neurobiology and brain states
  • Responding to skill sets


So, let’s dig in!

We’re going to start with behavior as a form of communication. Rather than getting stuck on “is this normal or is it because of ‘x’,” we’re going to acknowledge that behavior, any behavior, is neither good nor bad, it’s simply messaging. Think about the last 3 times your child tried to “tell” you something through his/her behavior.

  • Your 2-year old is refusing to put on pants.
  • Your 5-year old tantrums endlessly when you ask him to pick up toys
  • Your 12-year old refuses homework
  • Your 15 year-old rolls her eyes at you every time you speak
  • Your 18 year-old won’t talk to you

I know, if you’re like me, these things can cause huge triggers for us as parents. Screaming, crying, refusing, you name it – often creates a stress response in us as parents. We feel frustrated, confused and overwhelmed. I want you to try to reframe your own feeling of overwhelm into curiosity – what’s my kid trying to say? Look, they haven’t had 25 or 40 years to figure all of this out. Their brains are growing, developing and learning critical connections around problem solving. Sometimes, they don’t know why they’re behaving the way they are either!

So, here’s what I want you to try moving forward:

  1. Ask yourself – What is my kid trying to communicate?
  2. Get down on their level, use a calm voice and ask, “What’s going on? How can I help?”
  3. See what happens.


If this is new for you and your child, you might see some magical shifts. You might see the behavior diminish significantly simply because your child feels seen and acknowledged. You might get an answer; or you might get a kid who is confused. Let me reassure you that you don’t have to know all of the answers; but if you respond with curiosity and compassion instead of demanding that the child “stop doing” whatever he/she is doing, you’ll get a dramatically different response.

Regardless of what happens, you’ve shifted from compliance to connection – and it is a magical shift in the relationship you have with your child. Don’t worry, you can still have firm expectations and boundaries – but you’re going to have a better behaved (or regulated, more about this later) child because he/she won’t feel the need to dig in their heels and continue to behave in a way that gets your attention (even if it’s negative attention) to get his/her needs met.

Let me know – I want to hear from you – did you see a shift?

Let’s learn together,

Dr. Amy

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