All behavior makes sense

All Behavior Makes SenseHere are two things that everyone everywhere needs to know about everyone else:

  • People do the best they can with what they know.
  • All behavior makes sense when viewed in context.

This is true for ourselves and our friends and family and definitely for our kids.

Knowing this about each other can make it easier to understand — if not approve — of other people’s choices. Likely if we could stand in their shoes at just the right moment, that thing they just did that we think looks like a very bad idea would make perfect sense.

Take Amelia Bedelia. Now when I was a kid, I could not stand Amelia Bedelia because she was so silly. Amelia Bedelia, in case you did not know, is a fictional maid in picture books who is forever doing dumb things like putting raw chicken in baby clothes (because her employee asked her to “dress the chicken”) or putting sponges in cake (because her employee requested a “sponge cake”). But Amelia Bedelia is certainly doing the best she can and if you stood in her shoes — shoes that are on the feet of someone extremely literal — her choices would all make perfect sense.

Kids can be a lot like Amelia Bedelia (grown ups can be, too, but let’s stick with kids here because I’m filing this entry under the “parenting” category). They can do something that we can clearly see is a very bad idea and we can say to them, “Why did you do this?” And kids say, “I don’t know.” Because they don’t know; it just made sense when they did it. That’s why they lose their homework and hit their baby siblings and eat the last cupcake that didn’t belong to them and watch television instead of picking up their toys. It made perfect sense at the time.

If you assumed your child really was doing the best she could at the time — even if at the time she was leaving her lunchbox at school  — how might that change how you consider and deal with the problem? Might you think about the last time you left your cell phone at work or left your wallet on the kitchen table? These things happen when we’re overwhelmed or under slept or chatting with friends while we pack up to leave. We do the best we can and then sometimes we have to deal with the consequences when the best we can do isn’t so great.

What about your child who hits his baby sister every time your back is turned? What if you thought about the problem with the belief that he’s doing the best he can with what he knows. What does he need to know? In what way does his behavior make sense to him? I’m not talking about letting him off the hook but when we understand what’s going on our interventions are more likely to work. Maybe he needs more supervision. Maybe he needs help with emotional regulation. Maybe he’s imitating his big brother.

Assuming there’s a reason behind behavior — even if it’s a lousy reason — gives us tools to solve real problems.

Comments 7

  1. Fun times! I’ve been taught that examine-your-own-reactions stuff, and … it’s really exhausting. Fascinating, useful, but exhausting. Especially in a classroom/learning context. 🙂 Winter terms always felt different from the fall semester to me, and always seemed to pick up so much faster! Good luck (you can do it!).

  2. Yeah I dislike the fact that they label a field of study “abnormal behavior”. All behavior is normal. If you sit around reading research on how environmental factors afftect health it just plain all makes sense. There is no abnormal behavior only cumulative exposure to abnormal situations (or toxins etc). And with epigenetics we’re finding that those stressors come from stressors that happened for parents or grandparents as well.

  3. We were taught that people do the best they can with what they know, and “people do better when they know better”, too, but I think it’s half true. It’s true that people can’t do better than what they know, but not all people are open to the knowledge that would have them do better. Some people are out to serve themselves and won’t make use of knowledge that contradicts doing that.

  4. Yes Mia, that’s like the debate of is it “Narcisstic personality disorder” or is being a selfish asshole?

    Does being a selfish asshole need to be defined as a “mental illness”? Where does personal choice come it, or is there personal choice in such things?

    I actually don’t believe free will exists, so for me I think assholes are made.
    http://machineslikeus.com/news/free-will-11-recent-fmri-studies-brain

    Fascinating stuff. We are most healthy when we love and give and recieve and have great compassion and kindness. However it could just plain be that those of us (and those of us around us) who are kind and loving— are simply lucky.

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