Positive Responses to Children’s Behavior

Have you ever tried grocery shopping with a hungry child? Adults have a lot on their minds. Deadlines, bills, job stress, phone calls, traffic, and news stories. All this can lead adult minds to focus on the future. Children, on the other hand, focus on the present. They are constantly exploring their world, primarily through play and imitation. These differing perspectives can greatly frustrate both the child and adult. Adults want an efficient, cost-effective trip to the grocery store. Children want to play with what they observe. They want to explore with new behaviors and most of all, play with their favorite and most special person – you! In this blog, we explore how you can respond to your child positively to help you both navigate future frustrations.

Facing Frustrations

It can be overwhelming juggling errands with children. These requests may sound familiar to you:

“Honey, put that down please.”

“Please don’t touch other people.”

“Please don’t throw your shoes.”

“No, we cannot buy sugar cereal.”

“Please be quiet. Please don’t yell.”

“Please stop crying…”

By the time you finish shopping, you may feel as if you have run a marathon. You may feel cranky, your child feels cranky, and you have likely forgotten several items on your list. When children feel like a burden, caregivers may snap and fuss, which often makes children fuss back. Can we find another way?

Dr. Alison Gopnik, professor of psychology at the University of California at Berkeley, refers to children as the “research and development department of the human race.”[1] The longer a species enjoys a vulnerable period of growing-up, the larger their brains become over time. In order for children to develop in a healthy manner, adults must find ways to shift perspectives and join those children in play – while meeting the demands of their own responsibilities. Adults may find this shift harder than it sounds.

Responding to Children’s Behaviors

At ChildSavers, our Mental Health Services staff has developed expertise in noticing children’s perspectives and translating them for adults.

  • Step one: body language – let your whole body, from your face to your feet, turn towards your child. This may mean putting down the cell phone.
  • Step two: notice which toys or art supplies your child selects for play, which may mean having a range of playthings available.
  • Step three: follow your child’s lead! When invited, enter the play without losing your focus on the child.
  • Step four: set limits. When a behavior occurs that is unsafe or not allowed, firmly inform the child and give acceptable options.

Soon, you may begin to notice themes in your child’s play. This includes connections between play and what may happen in your child’s world. You can reflect on a play session with your child using a journal or an app. Children adjust to adult schedules and adult demands constantly, especially school-age children. Taking time to adjust to a child’s agenda may mean missing a call, canceling an appointment, or generally, feeling foolish – but it sends a powerful signal to the child that she or he is special to you. You may find that this also gives you a renewed sense of wonder and satisfaction, a small antidote to the stress of modern life.

Powerful Parenting

This Fall, ChildSavers will run “Powerful Parenting” groups for adults who wish to learn more about their children’s play. Each week, a circle of ten caregivers will meet together to discuss what they see in their children and to learn about child development. Every week, those caregivers schedule “special play time” at home with an at-home child-centered play kit made up of donations from our partners BB&T. Each caregiver will have an opportunity to show a video of special playtime with their child and to receive feedback from the group.

If you or someone you know would like to support these efforts by donating materials for the child-centered play kits or if you’d like to share your own stories of taking children’s perspectives, please contact us! Sarah Konigsburg is happy to coordinate your donation or pass your story along for sharing: skonigsburg@childsavers.org. You can learn more about this giving opportunity and the list of materials by clicking here.

[1] Alison Gopnik, “What Do Babies Think?” https://www.ted.com/talks/alison_gopnik_what_do_babies_think


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