Physical Versus Behavioral Challenges

As I’ve said in numerous blog posts and in my books, knowing “why” a child misbehaved does not change the child’s behavior. Whenever I promote this idea, some people respond saying that they believe knowing the reason for a person’s action is important. One person recently recounted an example in which knowing the “why” assisted in a situation where a child wasn’t doing his homework.

Here is my reply to that:
Many psychologists and therapists believe that knowing the “why” for a behavior is important. However, my quotes are from Dr. William Glasser, an internationally renowned psychiatrist and the author of “Reality Therapy”–updated in his newer, “Choice Theory.” He advocates that knowing the reason for a behavior may be of interest but, in most cases, has little to do with actually changing behavior. Change requires forming new neural connections. This requires new thinking and new behavior, rather than revisiting old memories.

An example of a student’s being noncompliant about doing homework was related in the communication to me. The student was diabetic, and giving this student a morning snack greatly assisted in control of his behavior. This is an excellent point and refers to a physical influence. A similar case can be made for noncompliant people with scotopic sensitivity (a brain situation where using color filters can greatly improve reading skills). See This student who has this condition and refuses to read is not a behavioral problem. The person has a physical challenge.

Both of these examples, diabetes and scotopic sensitivity, have to do with instruction (teaching and learning)—rather than irresponsible behavior. The student is not interfering with the teacher’s teaching, and the student is not disrupting other students’ learning.

As I explain in my seminars, all behavior is purposeful. Behavior is a person’s attempt to “fix” a problem or a situation—regardless of how irrational the behavior may be. To put it another way, behavior is an attempt to meet the person’s desires at that moment.

In most cases, articulating the reason that a person “misbehaves” is very difficult, if not impossible because all factors may not be discernable. In addition, ascertaining the probable reason can be a very time-consuming process.

Finding the underlying cause is certainly made easier when the prompt is physical and especially when a relationship is established where the student feels that the teacher wants to help. The student is more likely to share concerns with the teacher with whom there is a positive relationship. But if the teacher views the student as being noncompliant about homework or reading, then a positive relationship is hard to establish.