Can a Child’s Interest in Athletics, Music, or Other Recreational Pastimes Help Explain Her or His Inscrutable Behaviors?
I’ve heard stories about parents observing their kids engaging in some unexpected and, perhaps, bizarre or unusual behavior that is followed by a parental Q&A about why the kids did the observed behavior. To this day, my mother shares with others a story from my childhood that left her, at the time, with a feeling of shock and dread. It was a momentary escapade I had around age 10 when my mother found me holding a makeshift glider (made of a large piece of linoleum nailed to a couple of wooden boards) while standing on top of our backyard shed, preparing to jump off. Yes! I attempted to do this. And while my mother stopped me from taking the plunge by yelling from the top of her lungs, she still questions me today on how I ever came up with such a crazy idea.
This childhood event never evolved into an interest in jumping off of a mountain cliff with a real hang glider. It, however, did make me realize, as I got older, that I enjoy a sense of adventure in the outdoors. By the time I was an adult, I sought adventure through several outdoor activities, including parasailing, zip lining, hiking, and cycling.
Are the unexpected behaviors of our children always the result of an inscrutable motivation? Kids’ imaginations can be infinite. And as parents, we encourage our kids to use their imaginations in their play, their school work, and other pertinent areas of child development. There’s probably, however, many instances when we find that a behavior manifested by our kids, usually an undesirable, unusual, bizarre, or shocking one, can leave us scratching our heads and asking ourselves this question: “Where did that come from?” As a parent of three, I’ve had many instances like this.
I have discussed this topic with other parents. An approach used by several parents I’ve spoken with involves simply asking their kids how they came up with the idea that led to the unexpectedly observed behavior and what it is about the behavior that fascinated them. I found this approach helpful with my own children.
My middle child, who’s six years old, has always been a temperamental boy who sometimes has had tantrums for unknown reasons. His tantrums were often times followed by acrobat-like moves on the floor although he’s never had any type of formal training in acrobatics. And many times it would be difficult to disengage him from this particular behavior. My wife and I were trying to figure out, “Why acrobatics?” We eventually learned that his acrobatic movements were his own dance moves and served as a physical outlet. It happens that he enjoys music tremendously and, for him, music is also an outlet. Today, he has a microphone, a guitar, and a great love for singing, dancing, and performing. If I notice that he’s about to escalate to an angry outburst, I encourage him to use music as an outlet. Oftentimes, this helps him to self-regulate and to remain calm. Sometimes he’ll break into an acrobat-like dance while hearing his favorite song. There are other strategies my wife and I use with him but we are aware that music is an important interest that helps him to manage his emotions in an adaptive matter.
So while kids can exhibit unexpected behaviors that results in a “what?” or “huh?” response, it may simply mean sitting with our kids and helping them to figure out the possible motivation underlying them.