Beyond Behaviors

February 25 2021

The Psychology Today article, "Children’s Problem Behavior Understood Through Brain Scienceintroduces concepts discussed in the book titled, Beyond Behaviors by Dr. Delahooke.  In her book, Dr. Delahooke shares dozens of case studies from her decades of working with children who display challenging behaviors.  In each of these cases, she breaks down the situation so the reader may understand how misbehavior is often an adaptive and unconscious response to the internal reality of the child.  This is frequently undetected by the adults in the child’s life for various reasons.  Often, the adult’s own dysregulation due to the annoyance or anxiety of the child’s behavior, can make it difficult to see beyond the behavior.    

 When we see challenging behaviors in schools, the first few questions we should be asking are:  

  • Why is this child doing what they are doing? 
  • What is this child trying to communicate? 
  • How is this behavior helping the child cope? 


These few questions are just the tip of the iceberg to understanding what is going on beyond a child’s behavior. Some of the main topics discussed in the article and book are: 

  • “Felt Safety” and its role in fight/flight/freeze response  
  • How to view those responses according to the Polyvagal Theory 
  • Identifying behaviors as top-down or bottom-up  
  • The importance and power of love, safety, and connection in relationships, particularly with children that have vulnerable nervous systems that perceive threat even when they “appear” safe.
  • Children are sensitive to the feelings and moods of adults in their lives so feelings of anxiety, impatience, or irritability in and adult can trigger an “I’m not safe” response in the child that comes from the area of the brain responsible for flight, fight, freeze.  It is essential that adults who interact with children, take care of themselves and practice good self-regulation skills themselves: “We can best support a child when we are calm ourselves.”   

There is so much to unpack in this article BUT I highly recommend reading it in its entirety.  There is also a hard copy of Beyond Behaviors available in the Basecampus resource library if you would like to check it out.   

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