Wednesday 30 August 2017

Behaviour is not done on purpose. Behaviour is done for a Purpose.

Just recently I read a comment on a social media site that disturbed me on so many levels. The comment was:
"Do you know what I can't stand? Children who hit their parents. It's absolutely disgraceful. You are the parent, where is the respect."

Now I don't know the background to this comment or the family involved, but the person who made it is an Early Childhood Educator and this alone worries me.

It appears to me that the person who made this comment did not take the psychology and development of children into consideration before passing judgement on the child and family involved and that is very disconcerting.

They haven't examined the actions of the child from another angle prior to passing judgement.

All children, regardless of whether they have autism, another special need or none at all, ALL children are still learning to recognise and manage their BIG emotions.

BIG emotions that can be incredibly overwhelming at times.

BIG emotions that do cause children to lash out in frustration.

When a child lashes out, there could be an array of reasons and possibilities as to why they have lashed out and quite often it is not due to a lack of respect towards their parents.

Children lash out when they are tired, when they are feeling unwell, when they haven't yet grasped the concept of sharing and turn taking......

Lashing out at others, including their parents, isn't an excusable action but there is generally a reason behind the child's actions.

I am constantly reminding myself that a child's behaviour is not done on purpose, it is done for a purpose.

My role as a Mum and as an Educator is to work out what that purpose is and to provide and equip the child, be it my own children or the children in my care at work, with the skills that they need to be able to communicate their needs and wants. 

O and L often lash out at myself and Daddy Superhero and when they do it is not due to disrespect on their part, it's often due to their frustration at being unable to convey their feelings at that point in time. They lash out when they enter into sensory overload. They lash out when they enter into meltdown mode.

And when there is an underlying reason as to why they have lashed out, I show O and L compassion and understanding. I get to the bottom of why they have lashed out. I end up with much happier children when I do this. I can only imagine what would occur if I jumped to conclusions and condemned their behaviour.......

When others who were following the thread started commenting about children with autism and how they struggle to understand their own emotions and that they do lash out at times, others started chiming in with comments such as:

"Even children with additional needs should not hit their parents."

"Parents still need to set boundaries for children with autism."

"Children with autism need to learn from an early age that hitting is not okay."

When I read these comments, the only thing that I could say was WTF??? Plus a few other expletives that I will not repeat.

Really? So much judgement from education professionals who should know better.

Individuals with autism will often lash out when they are in sensory overload, when they are in meltdown mode and when they are unable to communicate their needs and wishes. They mean no maliciousness, they are simply communicating in the only manner that they know how.

I would love to know how these people would get through to a non-verbal child with autism that "hitting is not okay." How do you explain this to a child whose executive functioning is still developing?

How do you explain this to a child who does not understand or recognise their own emotions, let alone the emotions of others? How do you explain this to a child whose sense of interoception ** is still developing?

Yes individuals with autism do need to understand that violence is not okay but when an individual is in meltdown mode, all sensibilities really do go out of the window. An individual in meltdown mode is not aware of their actions.

I have felt the judgemental stares and have heard the judgemental comments from others when O and L have been in such an emotional state that they've lashed out at me.

These stares and comments are not helpful in any way shape or form.

And when the comments and stares are from education and medical professionals, they hurt much more deeply.

Over time O and L will come to understand that hurting others is not an acceptable behaviour but in the meantime I will keep reminding myself that -

Behaviour is not done on purpose. Behaviour is done for a purpose.

** The sense of Interoception is a relatively unheard internal part of the sensory system in which the internal physical and emotional states of the body are detected, recognised and responded to. Interoception skills are required for a range of basic and advanced functions - functions such as breathing, hunger, going to the toilet, being aware of your own emotions which includes being able to manage your emotions proactively. When children have not yet developed interoception skills they will struggle with their own emotions. They will struggle with being able to respond appropriately to their own and others emotions and in social interactions.


  1. So while I can see your view point especially for special needs kids who don't know any better, I think there is a deeper conversation that needs to be had. Maybe from their perspective, they have watched kids overall get more and more disrespectful to parents, and hitting them is a way not to express an emotion but to throw an tantrum until they get what they want? Now, again, special needs kids really are the exception imho. They don't know better nor can compherend it.

  2. I so agree with you! I believe in gentle parenting and agree that lashing out is a reflection of too big emotions that can't be handle. It's our job as parents to work through these emotions. One big lesson I got through parenting is that you just can't judge any other parent. Each situation is unique and a passerby can't understand family dynamics and life just looking st one moment on the street.

  3. Thank you thank you thank you!! My two year old has been in a phase of hitting when she is upset or tired or angry lately and I have been working tirelessly to teach her that it is not okay. I worry about what people think when she does this in public, and I hate that people are so judgmental about things they don't understand! I recognize that my daughter's actions are because she doesn't know yet how else to show her emotions, and we are working on that. I wish more people understood this.

    1. You are most welcome :) The judgement from others is hard but I am learning to try and brush it off and ignore them.

  4. This is a good reminder. I always emphasize to my son that hitting is not allowed and that it hurts others. But that is always followed by the recognition of what he might be feeling and other ways to cope. I agree that it is important for children to learn not to hit, but it is important for parents to understand the purpose behind it and help children learn to process emotions. You are right, it is most often not done out of disrespect, but frustration.

    1. Thank you. We also ensure that O and L know that lashing out is not allowed as well as helping them to recognise the emotions that caused them to lash out.

  5. I agree with you. I've never had much tolerance for hitting but with children you do have to remember that children in general have a hard time when it comes to feelings and dont know what they are feeling or how to act on that feeling. in children with autism its even more harder. Im on the spectrum and I struggled with it and even now I struggle with it and im in adult. My son is 2 but hes always been fussy and have long tantrums and stuff since he was born. I have had quite a few looks from people but he is still non verbal, though he does say maybe 6 words or less, he mostly screams, cries and screeches. people should be less judgmental and more understanding.


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