The Spirituality And Science Of Kids Who Are "Acting Out"
Updated: Mar 16, 2022
When our children's behavior feels unacceptable by the majority of the outside world, we are quick to judge, control, blame and resent our little ones.
Teachings of spiritual leaders combined with that of doctors’ can help us make conscious and informed decisions on how to best handle our children’s “misbehavior.”
A SPIRITUAL PERSPECTIVE:
Eckart Tolle gets deep by breaking apart the words “Human” and “Being”. In his book A New Earth, he explains that Human is form while Being is formless.
When we only relate to our Human forms, we are honoring an important part of our external world, such as the roles we play (mother, son, etc.) and what we do (work, teach, parent). But this will lead to a meaningless life, no matter how big our efforts or achievements may be.
Unless we interweave it with our Being - our consciousness. This is our ability to recognize ourselves in the “other”.
When we focus only on the Human part, our love becomes conditional, judgmental and controlling. It is in Being that we can hold space for true love for our children.
Grown-Up Tip: Get CURIOUS about your child’s behavior! A curious mindset is the opposite of a judgmental one. Notice who your children are without judgment and triggers. Are they physical, loud, soft, aloof, do they shut down? Treat these characteristics as observations not diagnoses. Don’t make this personal. Make it factual. Example: When my child is angry, she gets loud and physical when angry. She needs to kick and punch and scream. She cannot hear anything I am saying in the middle of her anger. This is her natural response. I am aware of my own discomfort when she acts out. But this has nothing to do with her.
Think of it like a camera. When we are only aware of our Human self, our cameras are zoomed in - focusing only on the child. However, when we can also be aware of our Being, our cameras are zoomed out and can see the whole experience, in addition to the child.
A SCIENTIFIC PERSPECTIVE:
Dr. Gabor Mate explains that when we perceive a child to be "acting out", we assume that he or she is misbehaving. But what exactly is acting out?
According to psychologists, Acting Out is:
the behavioral expression of emotions that serves to relieve tension associated with these emotions or to communicate them in a disguised, or indirect, way to others. Such behaviors may include arguing, fighting, stealing, threatening, or throwing tantrums.
So, essentially children are "acting out" that which cannot be expressed otherwise.
And, isn’t this true for grown-ups, too? How many times do we see adults acting out their emotions like anger or grief in their own unique ways because they are unable to express it otherwise.
Grown-Up Tip: Create INTROSPECTION The best part about creative problem solving is what you get to create out of it. You get to help them see themselves for who they are through the gift of introspection. This may be one of the greatest gifts you can give them because this is how they get to make sense of themselves and their lives. Expand their emotional vocabulary with every opportunity possible. Give them healthy tools or alternatives to express their emotions and natural behavior.
Dr. Mate goes further by paralleling this human behavior with nature. He says:
When a seed doesn’t bloom the “right” way, or if a plant starts dying or withering, do we yell at it or say “what’s wrong with you”? No.
We look at the environment to see what is missing. We get curious and ask questions like how we can change the environment to support the needs of this unique plant.
Dr. Mate argues that similar to nature, we need to do the same with our children.
He goes further to say that today’s modern society lacks many of the natural support systems parents and children need to stay mentally healthy. Before jumping to “discipline”, biology, genes or even medication to “fix” our children, let’s look at our environment.
With absolutist thinking we think with an all or nothing mindset. But that is faulty logic because it doesn’t allow space for both sides to exist. For instance, there may be a genetic reason for a child to need medication and the child’s environment may need some changes as well.
As an example, Dr. Mate talks about how our consumer-driven society has created a family culture that requires many homes to have two working parents, which in turn can be detrimental on our children’s mental health. This cannot be fixed by “fixing” the child. This can only be fixed if we take a serious look at our child’s environment - such as questioning the autopilot programming of society, culture and perhaps even re-examining our own lifestyle and more.
Gabor Mate is not alone in this line of thinking. There are a multitude of research studies that prove the environmental influences on children’s mental health and behavior. A published journal article specifically on this subject matter concluded that the main factors influencing the mental health of children are the social and psychological environment.
Science is also asking us to ZOOM OUT. Instead of focusing just on the child, we need to see the whole picture through the eyes of consciousness.
When we are only attached to the Human in us, we are hyper aware of our superiority to our children. This separates us because we are unable to see ourselves in them. This fogs up our vision.
Grown-Up Tip: REFLECT on your child’s behavior by ZOOMING out What happened earlier? Try to feel, hear and see every detail that happened before your child acted out as if you were them. Open your senses to that of your child. Remember to be able to do this consciously, you must tap into your Being, which allows you to see yourself in your child (without separation or sense of superiority).
If we agree that when we act out we are communicating our emotions in a disguised or indirect way, then why are we so quick to try to “fix” our little ones when they misbehave? Why don’t we instead try to uncover the root cause for their disguised emotions?
Emotions are complex and invisible to the eye. They need our presence. Our stillness. Our consciousness. They need our cameras to zoom out.
Instead, we try to control their behavior through discipline or make judgments about right or wrong, normal or abnormal.
When we are quick to point, blame or create judgements on our children, they manifest as anger, fear, pain and resentment. This is due to our own Human-Being imbalance that is unconsciously favoring our Human form.
We lose our ability to recognize ourselves in our children.
But we can take a more holistic approach… one that includes the many dimensions of being a Human Being. An approach that doesn’t just focus on our child’s inner world or external world. An approach that gets curious about their environment, their days, their support systems, their emotions, their relationships, etc.
When we can intertwine the divinity of the Human and Being, then we can have the ability to zoom in and zoom out to see our children as a whole.
This type of vision allows us to have the ability to recognize the oneness in our physical world and in our spiritual humanity - in our inner selves and outer world.
Next time your child is "acting out," take a moment to pause and GET CURIOUS by asking lots and lots of questions such as:
What is my child trying to express that is invisible to the eye?
How can I make space for my child to express this in a healthy and effective way?
How is our environment inhibiting my child from expressing their truth?
For a deeper dive, check out Hatch Brighter’s 4-step Method for Kids who Act Out - Download PDF