I have been thinking about something a lot since yesterday. In Developmental Psych, we were discussing the best way to deal with babies who have less than ideal temperaments. This means that they cry a lot, are fussy, or may not enjoy being picked up. We were all trying to think about how you could teach a baby to act better, but my professor stopped us. It turns out that one of the best things that you can do is work with the parents to help change their parenting style to better fit their child's needs. Even more specifically, teach the parents to correctly identify and respond to their child's underlying message.
For example, when a baby cries, he might be crying because he is hungry or tired or something else is wrong. Most parents try to figure out what their baby wants, and hopefully they can discern their needs most of the time. However, a lot of times, parents cannot. And this can cause frustration, anger or annoyance in that parent, who then displays that toward their child. Not only are they not meeting the child's needs but they are actually causing the child to become even more upset, thus perpetuating the cycle.
Fast forward a couple years. Children by now can talk and act much more than when they were infants, so parents expect them to be able to voice their needs accurately. However, they aren't capable of doing this. For example, a little 3 year old girl I've done testing with freaked out when a stranger came in a room. She gathered up all her toys next to her and started throwing them at the stranger. Her mother was horrified when she watched the videotape - she couldn't believe how awful and mean her daughter was acting! In reality, though, the little girl was just scared to death of this stranger and was protecting herself in the only way she knew how. She would have gotten calmed down and eventually learned to respond better to strangers if her mother had recognized and acknowledged this fear. However, if her mother had yelled at her and punished her, the cycle would continue. The mother needed to pay attention to her underlying message, rather than her behavior, in order to begin the process of change.
I keep thinking about how this applies to our daily lives. How many times have I snapped at someone for something they did, when in reality it was really because I was tired and stressed out? Or in reverse - how many times have I perpetuated a negative cycle by responding to someone's words and actions, rather than their true needs?
I just wonder what it would be like if we all looked for other people's underlying messages, rather than just taking them at their surface level behaviors.