At a staff meeting the other night, we had training in the idea of misbehaviours versus stress behaviours. Misbehaviours are behaviours that the child knows are wrong, has the ability to control, but simply chooses not to. Stress behaviours are behaviours that result from stressors in the child's life.
Here's the brilliant part:
Misbehaviours require addressing the behaviour.
Stress behaviours require addressing the stressor.
The basic idea of this is well known. People know that when we are tired or hungry we can be irritable, short-tempered, curt, and sometimes even a little mean. Mothers know that sleep deprived children or hungry children act out. But we so often get caught up in the behaviour that we forget to look for what might be behind it.
We studied a list of example stressors in 5 domains: biological, social, prosocial, emotional and cognitive. Here's the crazy part: there were about 60 different examples of stressors in each domain. That's over 300 examples of things that often tip people over the edge.
I scanned through the list, and immediately things started jumping out at me:
Insufficient solitude and quiet
Loud chewing/gum chewing
Too many things hanging in a classroom
Large social settings
Engaging in small talk and not really connecting at a meaningful level
When your partner is stressed
Information presented too slowly
Lack of intellectual stimulation
These are all stressors that, if happen too often, get me into a "not great mood." Luckily, many of these I'm aware of, and when they start to happen I know how to deal with the stressor so that I don't start to "misbehave" (be irritable, short-tempered, become confrontational, pick on small things).
Dealing with a stressor isn't a "get out of jail free" card in regards to bad behaviour. We cannot condone the bad behaviour even if there is a reason behind it. But we do need to teach our kids to identify their stressor and deal with it appropriately, by removing it/themselves, or by using a healthy coping strategy. Because the reality is a certain amount of stressors are healthy and always going to be around.
So here's the golden nugget in all this: when I'm not happy with the behaviour of my kids, I need to stop and ask myself, do I need to deal with a behaviour or a stressor?