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Book Review: The Great Behavior Breakdown

As someone who works primarily with children and their parents, I’m often on the lookout for books that help us better understand behavior, discipline, and children’s inner worlds. Responding to challenging behaviors in ways that are both empathetic and practical isn’t easy, and it helps to get fresh ideas. Sure, I always have my favorites (Whole Brain Child and Positive Discipline) on standby, but when I hear book suggestions from other professionals, I like to take the opportunity to check out a new perspective.

The most recent recommendation I received (which was then enthusiastically confirmed by others in the conversation) was for Bryan Post’s The Great Behavior Breakdown. I purchased the book right away, and then forgot all about it – hopefully I’m not the only one who does that! But I’m so glad I eventually picked the book up and started reading. To summarize my opinion in one sentence: my colleagues were absolutely right in their suggestion.

Clicking on the picture will lead you to the Amazon Page for the book.

The Pros: The book is divided into multiple short chapters that address many of the most difficult issues in parenting, from challenges with transitions, to lying, to bedtime struggles. But in my opinion, the real “meat” of the book lies in the introductory chapters. There, Post writes about children’s behavior in general – what drives it, and why our typical reactions tend to make it worse. Its ideology is similar to my old standbys, but it provides a new, fresh take that is a bit more accessible to parents and professionals alike.

The (possible) Cons: Post’s advice may be very different from what parents are used to hearing, which could make it difficult for them to hear initially. In addition, the author focuses a lot of his attention on children with trauma backgrounds, which parents may feel does not pertain to their child. However, most of his suggestions are applicable across various situations.

I don’t want to go into too much detail about the book, because I want to leave enough mystery for people to check it out themselves. However, let me break down what I think are three of Post’s most important points:

Changing how you parent requires an entire shift in thinking

As Post goes on to explain, it doesn’t do us any favors to hold onto concepts that don’t work – even if it’s all we’ve ever known. Maybe you spank your kids because you were spanked, and all your ancestors before you were spanked, but if it’s not actually stopping your child’s behavior problems, what’s the point of keeping it around?

I liken this idea to how nutritionists recommend losing weight not by going on a particular diet, but by making an entire lifestyle change. Until you can develop a different perspective on food (or behavior, in this case), not much is likely to change.

All “acting out” comes from a place of stress

Fear, stress, and feeling disconnected from our loved ones lead us to take some pretty drastic actions. *Notice how I said “us” and not “children” there.* That’s because we adults can misbehave at times, too. You can probably think of at least one time when you “acted out” – maybe you gave your spouse the silent treatment, or sent a snarky reply to a friend’s text, or slammed the door a little too hard. Why did you do those things? I’m willing to bet underneath the obvious anger, you were feeling afraid. Afraid of losing control, of being alone, of being thought of as weak. Post tells us that this fear lives in an unconscious place, and as long as it stays unconscious, the behavior will not improve.

Children are no different. We take their misbehavior personally sometimes, and we suspect that it’s a deliberate attempt to manipulate us, but truthfully, even the most obnoxious of behaviors stems from unconscious fear and stress. The first step to fixing it is by bringing that stress to the conscious.

We cannot help others through their stress when we too feel stressed

In the book, Post describes how we frequently get into a nasty pattern with children. Their stress or disconnect leads them to misbehave, which then brings up feeling of stress, frustration, and perhaps embarrassment in us. This leads us to react negatively to the child, who in turn feels even more stressed than they did before, and reacts negatively right back. It evokes an image of two people drowning at the same time. A drowning person cannot help another drowning person. You can’t shout at the other person to keep their head above water when you’re struggling to do the same. Nor can you yell at a child to calm down when you yourself feel frustrated.

The only way to break this cycle is for someone in the interaction to respond with calm. A regulated, soothing person is the only one who can interrupt the repetitive loop of negativity. Fortunately, The Great Behavior Breakdown can help you better understand how to be that interruption in your relationship with your child.

The above links are Amazon affiliate links, which means I get a small percentage of what you spend without it costing you anything extra. I only recommend books that I honestly see value in, whether or not you purchase it through these links. If you’re uncomfortable using the affiliate links, you can visit http://www.amazon.com and type the book you’re searching for.

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