Why Is My Child Doing That?

In the world of therapy, there are many axioms, start where the client is, no problems is a small problem for the one who has it, and all behavior has a purpose. I want to use that last one as our starting point. I hope to shed some light on an age old question. “Why is my child acting that way?’


In working with children and adolescents for the past 27 years, I have come to understand that behavior is communication. Children communicate what they think, feel and desire quite readily. The question are we listening?


Parents can listen????


One of the toughest and most rewarding parts of my job as a therapist is listening. Children respond to an adult who is listening to them, often with great surprise. Most of the time, my attending and listening is my most powerful intervention.

I have a book in my library at home entitled “Last Child In The Woods”  Excellent read about how children are not playing outside as much. My book would be “the Last Child Listened To.”  I make a distinction between hearing and listening. Listening is a much deeper and interactive process. Anyone can hear a child talk, very few listen.


Behavior is communication. Uncleaned up room. Your darling just can’t seem to keep the room clean, no matter how many times you have told them. That is communication. The dirty room is a statement. “The question is not are you going to clean your room, but talk to me about this style of room maintenance, what stops you from tidying it up?”  If you don’t understand the reasoning and meaning behind an action, you can’t begin to tackle it. Maybe it is ADHD and your child just doesn’t register the task. Maybe she is angry at being repeatedly told to clean and since she valued independence, she is striking back by not doing. The reason for that one behavior alone are many.


So what does it take to be a good listener to your child?


Children show how to communicate. they give and then you give back. Playing catch is a tremendous bonding time for a child of any age. 

  1. Set apart time for you and the child to talk uninterrupted, without phones, TV or other family
  2. Start with an open mind. Try and understand the child’s position fully before trying to explain what your reasons and expectations are.
  3. Be open to the idea that your child will most likely see the world and things in it differently than you.
  4. Be willing to compromise if needed, communication is not a win-lose contest.
  5. Understand that your child may not appreciate your view because they don’t get it yet, they are developing, but not adults yet.
  6. NO JUDGMENTS Talk to understand not condemn


When I talk to kids at work and in the world, I follow those rules. By being a good listener, the kids build trust in me to listen and understand. Oh, some of the things kids have told me. When I started as a counselor my hair was dark. Now it is almost white.


It is not an easy or quick task to listen to your child, and often the child will not have an answer. If you understand all that they are thinking about it, together you may come up with and answer.

Categories: Editor Thoughts

1 reply

  1. This is a great article David. I enjoyed reading it.


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