The language behind behavior [changing behavior pt4]

The kid that broke my heart


It was Tuesday morning when I pulled into the Little Rascals Day Care building. I was asked to meet 4-year-old Timothy. His foster mother was at her wit’s end due to the daily behavioral reports being sent home from school.

Timothy and I met in an activity room for about 20 minutes. We played games, played with puzzles, and we connected over talks about our favorite zoo animals. At some point during our engaging interaction, I mentioned that I was hungry as I had missed breakfast. Towards the end of our time, I taught him some basic self-regulation skills to help him focus in class. At the door to his classroom, we created a special handshake and happily made plans to play again in a few days.

After debriefing with the daycare director I jumped in my car and started the drive back to the office. While driving out of the parking lot the director ran in front of my car and screamed,

“He is doing it again!” I went inside and found my little Timothy screaming and violently hitting his teachers with a cord he ripped off of a toy. I knelt down and asked, “What is going on buddy?” He looked up with his tear-filled eyes, smirked and pulled a cookie out of his pocket. “Here Mr. Eddie, I got this for you.” Just then I remembered I told him I was hungry and he used his best tools to provide food for his new friend.

Behavior is language

Behavior is language. Our actions are a result of rehearsed patterns which ensure that what we do is consistent with how we see the world. I refer to behavior as a language because if we watch it closely it can tell us a story.

The only way we can change behavior is to change the story.

Where does this story come from?


It comes from life.

Let’s use Timothy as an example of how life scripted his story. His experiences in life caused him to translate his temptations and hence triggered his wrongdoings in a very specific way.


Three things caught Timothy’s attention:  He made a new friend, he learned that his new friend was hungry and he later found a cookie.


As a toddler, Timothy’s biological mother taught him that communication is done through aggression. He was exposed to neglect and spent many nights dealing with the pain of hunger. Over time he grew a deep fear of hunger. So when his teacher ignored him after he asked to take the cookie to Eddie, it reminded him of how his early upbringing taught him to use aggression for communication.


Timothy screamed at his teacher, found a cord to hit his teacher and gave the cookie to Eddie when he came in.

Here is the point 

We all wanted Timothy to behave better. We want him to behave appropriately in his classroom and at home. As caregivers, we use discipline to help Timothy learn how to get his needs met in an appropriate way.

BUT Discipline is not an external construct. In other words, you cannot train a child to do good things and expect them to be a good person as a result. Good behavior has to be a part of their belief system, a part of how they see the world and themselves. It has to be a part of their personal story. Discipline goes beyond temptation management and correcting wrongdoings. Discipline has to touch the heart and mind of an individual.

Time to Transform

How do you begin to implement discipline to change a child like Timothy?

Here are the steps that we want to walk through in order to rewrite the story:

Step 1: Slow down and pay attention

Step 2: Learn the story

Step 3: Learn the triggers

Step 4: Create lasting habits

In order to accomplish this, we have to first start with you, the parent. You will not be able to attend to the delicate process of transforming your child if you have no experienced with it for yourself.


Crossing the bridge [your turn]


Just read the next article. You will thank me later.



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