Negative Beliefs May Be Underneath Your Child’s Challenging Behaviors
When children are raised by an attuned caregiver in a safe environment, they develop positive beliefs about themselves and their world, including:
- I am good/loveable
- I am safe
- I can trust grown-ups to meet my needs
- It is safe to love and trust
- My needs are important
Children who are raised in a neglectful environment or children who experience an attachment break (even at birth), or abuse or other trauma are at risk of developing negative beliefs about themselves and the world, including:
- I am not safe
- I am not a good or loveable baby
- I did something wrong/this was my fault
- I cannot trust moms/dads
- I am not important
These negative beliefs become “stuck” and continue to contribute to children’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. When parents are trying to determine if a child’s behavior is “normal” or related to something from their past, it can be helpful to look for the child’s possible negative beliefs. The child who tantrums when asked to do a chore may have a negative belief “all chores are punishments, and punishments are not safe.” This child may have experienced harsh and inappropriate discipline. Or maybe the child has a negative belief that only the bad kids are made to do chores and this hits the negative belief of “I am bad.”
If we work hard to be attuned to our children, we can help identify these negative beliefs outside moments of severe behavioral challenges. Then when we are faced with a behavioral melt-down, we already have some clues about their core negative beliefs and can consider if those negative beliefs came into play.
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Robyn Gobbel, LCSW is a child and family therapist in Austin, Texas specializing in adoption, trauma, and attachment counseling.
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