Why I dislike using the word ‘behavioural’

There is something about the word ‘behavioural’ that really irks me. For so long, I have had specialists and health professionals tell me that my kids’ sleep issues are ‘behavioural’. Apart from some of it actually being completely normal (see the link to some studies), there is also a view that I am gradually becoming more familiar and comfortable with, about control in relation to children.

Photo by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash

For me, the word behaviour conjures the idea that the child is doing something on purpose, intentionally. Certainly, I think a lot of parents actually do believe two and three-year-old children are capable of intentionally manipulating their parents. Sarah Ockwell-Smith argues that manipulation is a myth, and I agree! There is no doubt that we as human beings are all interested in having our needs met, and that can look selfish to some, but it is completely typical and normal. The difference is that children are actually completely incapable of manipulation, some scientists believe that type of thinking is actually not possible until our mid-twenties…

So how can we look at the way children ask for their needs to be met, without calling it manipulation? I am continually told that my breastfeeding at night was the reason my kids woke. This makes absolutely no sense to me. Firstly, how can he be asleep and think to himself, I am going to wake up now so I can breastfeed. No, he isn’t capable of doing that, in fact, I don’t think anyone can will themselves awake while asleep… However, when he does wake, he needs to be comforted for whatever reason, and I happen to choose to use breastfeeding as a comforting and soothing practice. I’ve talked before about why that actually is not a problem; it’s only a problem if I don’t want to do it.

Exploring the reasons our children do the things they do, whether it is night-waking, or screaming tantrums, or hitting their little brother or sister, all leads back to the same place, the same question. What needs do they have, that are not being met? Do they need your attention, do they need a cuddle, are they hungry or cold, did they have a nightmare? The questions and possible needs are definitely endless and also often impossible to distinguish from one another.

Photo by Myles Tan on Unsplash

However, instead of calling it behaviour, why can’t we just call it ‘asking’, ‘communicating’ or ‘needing’? Why do we as a society need to view children as behaving incorrectly when all that they want or need is something from you in order to be regulated back to a calm and happy place. Even Raising Children have a good article on self-regulation where they explain that school age children start to be able to regulate properly, seeing both sides of a situation. I would love to see the word behaviour removed from all situations involving children. Children don’t behave poorly, they are communicating and asking for their needs to be met.

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