Beyond Behaviors

Using brain science and compassion to understand and solve children’s behavioral challenges

Author: Mona Delahooke, PhD
RBE: 838

To be compassionate is to be aware of another’s suffering or distress and to have a strong desire to make that situation better for another human being. We can see compassion at a societal level for example when the tornado hit many parts of Ottawa, the community came together to raise money, offer shelter, clothing and food for those who lost their homes.  

We can also see compassion at work at a more personal level for example when a good friend loses a spouse or a parent, we may bring food, offer comfort and kind words. 

However, as adults we are not always compassionate towards children when they exhibit challenging behaviour. For example, a child who is playing happily on the carpet with cars and trucks, is suddenly throwing those cars and trucks and hiding under a table when asked to clean up. As educators we might say, this child is disrespectful or this child is willfully choosing not to listen. We also may say, I can’t have a child who defies authority in my class, dealing with the challenging behaviour takes away from the other children.  

Yet, if we look at that scenario through the lens of brain science and compassion, we would have a different understanding of the child. 

What if:  

  • the child didn’t hear you because they have hearing loss? 
  • the transitions cues didn’t happen or were done so quickly that the child missed the cue? 
  • the child was hiding under a table because they wanted space to feel safe and secure? 
  • the child threw the cars and trucks because they felt they no longer had control? 
  • your tone of voice sounded threatening to the child and triggered their fight or flight response? 
  • the child does not have a good connection with you? 
  • what if the child does not feel safe or secure in their body and mind? 

  As educators, would you say or do something different? I think you would. 

Mona Delahooke’s book helps us understand that what we perceive to be the truth about a child’s behaviour is not necessarily the truth about the behaviour. She offers a multi-disciplinary approach to challenging behaviour. She begins with developmental milestones; moves towards sensory processing and ties it nicely with neuroscience evidence. She spends 3 chapters on solutions and concludes with observations on neurodiversity and trauma informed approaches. 

I highly recommend this book to educators who want to understand challenging behaviour through a new and compassionate lens. 

Pina Giovannitti, RECE, BA Psych, BST, FNS Practitioner
CISS Behaviour Consultant