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How to Understand Behavior as a Form of Communication

Human behavior can be complex and difficult to understand. Problematic behavior in adolescents can be especially challenging to understand, as they may not even grasp the reasons behind what they are doing. One way to simplify understanding behavior is to look at behavior as a form of communication. When we look at all behavior as a way of communicating how we fulfill our needs, we can start to understand the motivations behind behavior. We can then start to find replacements for any unhealthy or problematic behaviors by understanding the needs. Fire Mountain believes that problem behaviors, like drinking and drug use in adolescents, can be best solved with caring, compassion, and understanding.

Looking at behavior from the perspective of communication can help us to better understand the behavior and find solutions to preventing problematic behaviors from occurring. The adolescent mind is under-developed and not yet fully formed. Executive functions of the brain, like problem-solving and decision-making, are some of the last areas of the brain to fully form as young adults. Therefore, adolescents may need guidance and support to find solutions to their problems or make healthy decisions. Adolescent drinking, drug use, or other issues may begin when our kid does not fully understand how to best fulfill their needs. They may be communicating that they want to belong to a group, that they need attention, that they are feeling sad or depressed, or that they want a sense of control in a situation. By asking ourselves what the behavior is trying to communicate, we can help our kids find better solutions to get their needs met.

What Might This Action Be Communicating?

Teenagers face pressure and stress daily like adults, except they do not have the experience or full capacity to handle these stressors in a healthy way. Adolescents need help and support to make their decisions. They may need help in understanding why they are engaging in problem behaviors. Here are some common reasons that kids drink or use substances:

  1. Peer Pressure and a Sense of Belonging:

  2. Peer pressure is a common reason why kids get into trouble. Peers can have a great impact on adolescent behavior. After all, kids spend the majority of their time with their peers and these groups of kids may be the only ones that matter to them. Whether during school hours, after school at friends’ homes, during extracurricular activities, or spending time with siblings at home, these groups can be the driving force to feeling the need to fit in.

  3. Needing to feel a sense of belonging is really the root of peer pressure. Kids, like adults, need to feel like they belong to a group or a “tribe.” If an adolescent is spending all of their time with peers engaging in troublesome activities, they may be communicating that they want to belong somewhere, yet they are limited in options. We might help them by encouraging them to join clubs or start hobbies that introduce them to friends based on common interests.

  4. Depression, Anxiety, or Coping with Sadness:

  5. Self-medicating for depression or anxiety can be a reason why teens turn to drugs or alcohol. Teenagers may not be able to fully express their own feelings and have difficulty managing emotions. When we begin looking at the issues as a way of communicating sadness or anxiety, we can understand better ways of managing the issues. We can let our kids know that we are here for them or help them connect with counseling.

  6. Boredom:

  7. Kids may feel bored or unchallenged. They may be looking for excitement in life or a challenge. Feelings of boredom can be the root cause of many behavioral issues. Kids may act out or engage in risky activities to provide needed stimulation for themselves. We might need to look at what our kids’ daily lives are like and find out if they feel bored or unchallenged if they are engaging in problem behaviors.

  8. Attention-seeking:

  9. Some kids may be looking for attention. They may feel lonely or isolated. They may not have strong connections with others, either at home or in school. They may feel neglected and misunderstood. Getting into trouble can be a way of receiving the attention that they crave, however, they may not understand better ways of getting attention. If kids are looking for attention, we can help them by getting ahead of the issue and scheduling regular activities with focused attention. We can actively listen to our kids and encourage them to make healthy friendships with peers.

Finding the roots of behavioral issues can be the best way to deal with problems. Adolescents may be using their behaviors to communicate unmet needs or wants. They may not know how to gain access to what they desire and may engage in problematic behaviors. By understanding what the behavior is communicating, we can help our kids find healthy solutions to their problems.

Fire Mountain understands that kids today are facing pressure and stress that may be the underlying cause of a number of behavioral issues. Kids may feel lost or neglected. They may feel depressed or anxious. They may not know how to communicate what they feel or how to gain access to what they need. Behavior can be viewed as a form of communication. The way a person behaves can tell us about what the person needs or wants. If we look at the immediate result of problem behavior, like getting attention after making trouble or feeling less anxious while drinking, we might be able to infer what the behavior is communicating. Fire Mountain can help you and your kids find more effective and healthy strategies to get their needs met.

Call us today at (303) 443-3343.

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