Behavior is communication. That is one resounding concept that was drilled into us at a 16-hour foster care training that my husband and I recently attended. Specifically, it was trauma responsive care training through Whole Child Initiative (WCI), which, by the way, was excellent. It is a must for anyone and everyone considering foster care or adoption. In fact, a lot of it even applies to parenting my own biological children. My husband and I both left the training saying, “I wish I had known some of this stuff sooner.”
While the two days of training made us feel like we were drinking from a fire hydrant – so much info spewing out at us so quickly – the one thing that drenched our minds and hearts was the idea that behavior is communication.
What does that mean exactly?
Well, when it comes to children wounded by trauma, their behavior is always communicating something about their biological state. According to the training, “When the body is malnourished, the brain malfunctions. This influences a child’s capacity to learn, relate to others, and manage behavior in helpful ways.” For example, when a child acts out, there is more to it than defiance. He or she may be hungry or dehydrated and as a result, that child is not able to manage his or her behavior in an acceptable way.
Think about the word hangry. It’s a real thing! Merriam Webster defines it as being “irritable or angry because of hunger.” And whether or not we want to admit it, somebody has suffered the wrath of our being hangry at some point.
A couple of years ago, I decided to try the keto diet. In no time, my husband was begging me to eat some candy, a piece of bread, or any form of carbs out of fear for his life because my hanger was in full force. Perhaps I’m being a bit dramatic, but needless to say, my new way of eating didn’t last very long. It wasn’t sustainable for me. Underneath it all, something was going on that my body did not like; I was depriving my body of something it needed (in moderation), and my behavior toward my family showed it!
Hanger is just one of multiple ways that our behavior communicates what’s going on within us. While the concept of behavior as communication applies specifically to children who have been affected by trauma, in essence, it applies to all of us when we dig deep and really think about it.
Look at it like this: Behavior is an expression of what’s happening beneath the surface and deep within us.
Why does a baby cry? Just to annoy and frustrate his parents? Absolutely not! He cries to communicate a need – a need to be fed, changed, cuddled, and loved.
Why does a parent innately grab a young child by the hand before crossing a busy street? The parent’s action communicates a response to the child’s need for guidance and protection.
Why do siblings whine for their parents’ attention? Though their actions may be negative, they are communicating a need to be loved and heard.
Why do some teenagers tend to follow the crowd? Because they have a need to be known and accepted.
Why do believers spend time in God’s Word and with fellow believers? Because they have a need for a relationship with their Creator and a need for fellowship with others.
Deep within, we all long for relationships, and our behavior communicates it. When we deprive our soul of something, or Someone, it needs, we become malnourished spiritually, and it shows. Something deep within us, below the surface, is crying out to be known!
According to WCI, “The single most important predictor of a child’s outcome is a healthy relationship.”
Can’t the same be said for Christians? The single most important predictor of a person’s eternity is a healthy relationship with his Creator? And when we are in a healthy relationship with the One who made us, our lives communicate it in both word and deed.
From the overflow of our converted hearts, our behavior communicates love, respect, grace, and truth. Our lives become all about living it out and inviting others in … to know and be known by Him.