Challenging Behaviour is a Form of Communication

Extraordinary Parenting by Eloise Rickman

The way kids behave give us vital clues to how they are feeling and what they are thinking. By paying attention we can help our children communicate with us in ways that they aren’t quite able to vocalize. Eloise Rickman helps us to understand that “behaviour as a form of communication” in her book, Extraordinary Parenting.

She writes . . .

“Challenging behaviour, such as pushing, throwing, hitting, and being rude and defiant, will be familiar to all parents. When our children act in these ways, it can be draining and frustrating — and it can make us seriously question our parenting skills. The thing that has most transformed my parenting — and my ability to not completely lose it if my daughter draws on the wall or refuses to put her pajamas on — is to remember that children’s challenging behaviour is always a form of communication.”

What Are They Trying to Communicate?

Rickman uses the imagery of an iceberg to help us understand that there is always something underneath the challenging behaviour we see in our children from time to time.

“An oft-used metaphor is that of an iceberg. Visible to us is our child’s behaviour, but underneath the waves might be hiding:  Hunger or thirst Tiredness Physical discomfort (too hot, too cold, itchy clothes, overstimulated, too much background noise) Feeling unwell or in pain Feeling upset Feeling lonely, or disconnected from parents or caregivers Feeling overwhelmed A need for sensory input or stimulation Feeling frustrated or angry Curiosity or experimentation A lack of self-control Issues at childcare or school Issues with another adult or child Changes in their life (new home, new sibling, divorce) Changes in the world around them Changes in their routine or rhythm Not being able to communicate or express themselves fully Not understanding why they cannot do something The reaction they received last time they behaved this way”

Children Need Our Help, Support, and Guidance

“In short, when children behave in a way that challenges us, they do so because they either need our help, our support, our guidance, or all three.”

Don’t Think Discipline, Connect Instead

“This shift requires a radical move away from parenting that is based on discipline and punishment as the core mechanisms to change our children’s behaviour. , here we are seeking to understand what needs are underlying their behaviour, and seeking to meet those needs. When we are having a hard time as adults, this is what we would want from the people we love. Our children are no different.

When you start to view challenging behaviour not as naughtiness which needs training, punishing, or discipline, but as a problem to solve together, the dynamic of your parenting shifts and conflicts can become opportunities for connection.

Limit the Use of No

One final thought for today. Try to use the word ‘No” sparingly.

“When children hear ‘no’ all the time, it starts to lose its meaning. It’s better to save ‘no’ for serious situations where you really need your child to pay attention urgently.”

I have a philosophy of “Why not?” that I use with my toddler. When he wants to do something that wasn’t in my plan, instead of saying, “No, we’re not doing that right now” I try to think, “Why not?” and go along with his plan. It might be a little inconvenient or not exactly what I wanted to do, but it helps his learning and fuels his curiosity. We often end up having fun together too.

More at Know School

I had planned to document my homeschooling journey here on my blog but I have started a new website dedicated to helping families in their home-based education and parenting. It’s called Know School (get the pun.) My homeschool is like no school I have ever taught in. It helps my son and I immensely. I hope it can do the same for you.

Please head over to now and follow me on those social media channels too.

I will be writing more about this book there as well.

My List of 2021 Reads – my annual reading log