7 questions to help you decode your child’s SOS and respond

“All communication is either an SOS or a care package.” — Kelly Bryson

You’ve probably heard the term “Acting out’ refer to misbehaving.  It actually means to act out a need or feeling that you can’t express in words.

So when your three year old hits the baby, or your five year old throws a toy at you, or your seven year old slams the door, they’re acting out. You could respond with punishment.  After all, the behavior is clearly unacceptable.  But you would be missing the feeling that your child is finding so unbearable that he has to act it out. You would be missing your child’s SOS.


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Should you overlook the “bad” behavior?  Of course not.  Move in to keep everyone safe. (In a perfect world, of course, you would do this BEFORE the SOS behavior. But families are made of humans, who by definition aren’t perfect. That’s ok; Love serves us better than Perfect every time.)

As you set the limit–calmly and kindly–remind yourself that there’s a reason for your child’s behavior.  It may not be what you consider a good reason, but it’s her reason.

Then, address the need or feeling that’s motivating her behavior. That gives her the help she needs to cooperate with you. If you don’t address the need, you don’t get to the source of the behavior.

Want some examples of decoding an SOS?

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