Why Offtrack Behavior is a Sign A Child Needs You: What Your Children Are Really Saying When They Act Up


A Guest Post by Emilie Leeks

All children have times where their behaviours challenge us as parents. Things like hitting, biting, kicking, and snide remarks to siblings are all off-track behaviours that signal our children are having an ’emotional emergency’. In those times they need our help – and fast!

When A Limit Brings On Big Feelings

Getting in early with a warm, loving limit is so important. Warm limits allow the hurt feelings and stuck emotions to start to flow out, and if we can listen through those big feelings, our children can come out the other side still confident in our love for them, and thinking clearly and creatively again.

tween girl shielding her eyes and acting aggressiveBut sometimes, the force of those feelings can be overwhelming. They play out in physical form, and a child hits out, kicks or pushes. As a parent, you try to keep everyone safe, but sometimes, you can get struck in the crossfire.

Our oldest child (who was aged 7 at the time) went through a phase where he seemed angry a lot. He would explode out of the blue – lashing out with his body or with words. Or he might bug his younger sister – just giving her a little flick with his hand, or calling her a name as he went by for no apparent reason.

I do my best to keep myself safe, but occasionally I’m not quite quick enough and my child might just catch me as they lash out. I had some feelings about getting hurt – not just when I’m listening to my children cry, but during play in general. I’d been working really hard on remembering that if I only get hurt a little it doesn’t have to mean that I go into a big sulk – which is exactly what I always really want to do!!

I remind myself that the initial shock is always much worse than the actual pain, which is minimal. I’m not sure why I can’t laugh these things off, and it’s something I plan to take to my listening time to explore.

How it worked when my child had a tough time

One day, I had to set a limit after a few little incidents with his sister signalled to me that our son was struggling with something.

He very quickly got extremely rough – very physical – with lots of attempts to hurt me. I just kept really calm and warm towards my son, saying ‘You’re safe, I’ll always be here for you’ and things like that.

He battled me for a long time and carried on being really angry, but I had to bring things to a close because my other children needed attending to. Reluctantly, I said that I really wanted to listen and that I would be near, but that I needed to go and get our youngest child ready.

Finding the Feelings Behind the Anger

My son suddenly dissolved into tears – something he very rarely did at that time – and implored me not to go! I gave him lots of cuddles and reassured him that I would be near, and after this he became very affectionate.

I told him that I’m always there for him, but he said that I wasn’t always there. I wasn’t there for him when he was at school, he said. He told me he wanted me there all the time.

I simply responded in agreement, by saying things like, “I know it’s hard.”

Then he decided that perhaps he could take a photo of me into school with him.

Why Making Space Lets Emotions Clear

happy mom holding smiling boyI was so pleased that I’d just given this the time and space to sort itself out. In the past I would have tried to over reassure him about being apart from me, and I might have made suggestions of things to do.

This time I just empathised with him, and I was so pleased when he came up with this solution of the photo all by himself!

He’s seemed much happier about going into school since then – although to be honest despite him having my photo in his bag, I’m not sure he ever remembered it was there!

Does your child hit, kick or punch? If you want help on aggressive outbursts get these 5 Free Podcasts for practical ways to address the behaviour.

Meet the Instructor

Emilie Leeks lives in Berkshire, UK with her husband and three children. She is a certified Hand in Hand Instructor with additional experience in speech, language and communication issues.

This post was originally published on Emilie’s blog Journeys-in-Parenting. You can also contact Emilie through her Facebook page.



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