All Behavior is Communication

Written by Kristin Tallackson, M.A.

When children misbehave they are saying so much through their actions. I have many parents who are mind boggled by their children’s disruptive behavior. We are quick to label our children as “defiant” and “manipulative” when they ignore our demands and respond inappropriately. We often discount their actions as “attention-seeking”.

Children seek attention because they need attention. When a newborn cries, it is because they are seeking comfort they cannot give themselves. When children do not have the ability to verbally express their needs, they “speak” through their behaviors. A child’s behavior is their form of communication. It is important as a parent to stop, pause, and “listen” to what their behavior is telling us. Here are a few examples of behavior, and what it may be communicating.

Shutting Down:

A child who shuts down, refuses eye contact, walks away and gives the parent the silent treatment is a child who is overwhelmed. This behavior could communicate, “life is too big to handle. I’m shutting down my world in order to survive”

Negative Behavior during transition:

When children struggle with transition they may be communicating, “I don’t know what is happening, I feel unsafe. Something bad may happen; I’m scared”.


When a child gets challenged by life, they may shut down and do nothing. The child could be communicating “My efforts don’t produce results, so I won’t even try because I will just disappoint myself and others”.

We often get caught up in looking for the trigger and trying to see if the behavior is a manipulation or attention seeking.

Listening to the behavior and responding to the emotion the child is trying to communicate is the path to fostering emotion regulation.

Written by Kristin Tallackson, M.A.

 Kristin is a counselor at Heights Family Counseling who specializes in anxiety, behavior, mood, attachment, and child/teen counseling. Kristin's counseling approach is to offer a safe place for you to process and work through a multitude of circumstances, while offering valuable insight and perspective into whatever journey you may find yourself. Her philosophy is to embrace you where you are, equip you with tools, coping mechanisms and knowledge, and empower you to take those tools and lead a fulfilling life. Read more about Kristin’s counseling approach at Set up an appointment with Kristin online by going to