As behavior analysts, we are formally trained to analyze only what is observable and measurable. While that has value in the right contexts, it’s also important to identify internal states that may be driving behavior. This helps us get to the root of the issue, rather than simply just addressing the tip of the iceberg (e.g. behaviors we can physically see).
When a child is dysregulated, feels unsafe, or is lacking connection, they may engage in what we perceive as “maladaptive behaviors”. In reality, this could be the nervous system’s way of producing a stress response. Perhaps the child does not have the emotional maturity or communication skills to behave in a way that is functional or appropriate. Our goal is to identify a child’s developmental level and teach them adaptive and functional skills in a way that makes sense to them.
Consider that behaviors which adults may perceive as annoying or disruptive may be the child’s way of seeking regulation. As parents and caregivers, we are our child’s co-regulator. It is our responsibility to help them engage in healthy behaviors to keep their sensory systems happy.
When we set up an environment that is safe, connected, and reinforcing, our kids are less likely to engage in “maladaptive” behaviors. This doesn’t mean that adults have to entertain their kids 24/7. But we can try to provide options and resources to help them develop independent and positive play skills.