I'm a firm believer that no child wants to be a bad kid. If they are acting out, there's a good chance that the grown ups in charge have missed something and the kid is trying to tell you something.
The best way to gauge the needs of a child is to try your best to see things the way they do and see how you would feel if your needs were neglected.
We all have a desire for control. It's horrible when life spins out of control. That's when people check out and escape. Putting on my big girl pants means I'm releasing control over situations I can't control and accepting the only thing I can control is my reaction and my mindset. This comes from having full control of my life and knowing it's still not complete control. There's freedom in this, but it's not freedom if you have absolutely no control. Our children don't always get to choose what to eat, or wear or when to go to bed. They don't always get to choose where they are going or who they will be with. I get a little road ragey when I want the car ahead of me to drive like they had to get a license to do so. I try to give my kids control where I can. My mom feels I give them too many choices, but I feel it's important to teach them that their opinions are valued and that I want to know what they think and feel.
Children need much more sleep than adults do. When we are asleep is when we grow and heal. It's when we recharge and reset from what was learned. If you eat a large meal, your brain slows down and you get sleepy because your body needs the rest to process the work it's doing. This is why multitasking means you get lots of less than stellar results. Kids need rest. Dragging them from store to store and not making sure they are rested is begging for a melt down.
We all have experienced hangry moments. It's when hunger and anger merge and food makes us feel bad for our behavior later. As adults, it's easy to be so driven by duty that we neglect our bellies, but we still know when we need to eat. We have learned to listen to our bodies. Infants had a steady stream from their umbilical cord and don't experience hunger until birth. It looks like rooting and mouthing their little fists, but it sounds like crying and anger. They have little bellies. Small frequent meals will help keep them calm.
No one likes to be lonely. As adults, we crave company and connection. I'm not dating right now because the people that want to connect usually want to connect in ways that I'm not interested in. I want a mental and emotional connection, and often that means I can skip the rest unless I find someone whose juice is worth my squeeze. For now that's just me. My juice is worth my squeeze but I drew what loneliness is to me. There's a vulnerability in standing alone and enjoying it. My stick figures include a naked curly haired kid and a couple with clothes on. She's wearing a bikini top (no nipples). We all crave connection. Our kids want us to see what they are doing and they want our involvement. Humans need physical touch.
My drawing is supposed to be a computer and a football, but you can see where my football took a turn. Maybe my computer was offering porn. I haven't decided, but you can. I've never called myself an artist. I craft words. My kids love being entertained. It looks like Homestuck, or Minecraft or YouTube. They are growing up in a world of globalization and computers in the classroom so learning is entertainment. I was lucky enough to have a friend in high school point out that it's lucky when we can be our favorite company. It's a blessing to be content when alone. I can stand and watch a setting sun shimmering on ocean waves. I can be present and feel the warmth of the sun and the breeze on the air and I can feel how wonderful living in the moment is. It's a learned skill and not every child has learned it. It doesn't help that I and other parents have used the television to keep them entertained so we can do laundry and dishes and be parents.
We need to feel love and affection. We need to feel valued. We need to know that we are not cared for out of obligation but because we are deeply loved. Kids need to know it from their family because the value we instill will help them see that they are enough on their own and they won't need to buy friendships or barter sex for affection. Teach your children they are loved early and they will learn to love themselves, rather than seek someone else's love to fill the voids from a detached parent.
I love openly and freely. I have no problem complimenting someone else. If I see greatness in someone, I will call it out because I love what I see and want to honor that beauty. Love is a gift that I enjoy giving.
What happens when we fail
When we can't give our children what they need, they will often react by acting out. This can look like tears, or tantrums. This can look like bad behavior and lying. Why would someone lie? They know that the truth isn't good enough for the person they're lying to. They know that what they think or believe or feel should be shaded in someone else's approval before it's accepted. How sad is that? I started this post by stating that no child wants to be bad, and I stand by it. Getting your attention, whether through praise or a reprimand means that you are looking at what had been ignored. When my boys act out, the first thing I look at is where I failed them, and I can usually spot it, but sometimes I have to ask and coax it out of them.
Meltdown vs. Tantrum
Being an autism mom means I have first hand experience of a meltdown and have had to learn the difference. Most people see acting out as a tantrum, but a meltdown is a different beast.
A tantrum is usually about getting what is wanted. The kid in question has probably had a tantrum that was rewarded in the past. They will often act out as long as they are getting a reaction from you. I don't react to my kid's tantrums. Not anymore. I will step over a crying child and keep walking. They are aware of their personal safety and their audience.
A meltdown means there is so much going on that the kid has lost control. Meltdowns mean they might end up hurting themselves. Meltdowns mean they can't adjust to the situation and for my boys, I need to be their anchor, and hold them quietly until the moment passes.