Focus on the child’s needs rather than on modifying their behavior!

Rita Princi-Hubbard

PhD Candidate – UQ
B.Psych(Hons), M.Psych(Clin), MAPS, FCCLP

Recent research exploring the neuroscience principles of child development is consistently recommending this shift in focus as a way to understand the child, increase the child’s sense of safety and belonging, and as a way for parents and educators to truly connect and engage with the child. Many times, especially when following the traditional parenting and teaching models, the child’s behavior is either seen as desirable or undesirable, appropriate or inappropriate, acceptable or unacceptable. As a result, when a child’s behavior is determined as unacceptable, then behavior modification strategies may be implemented to change or fix the behavior, or to change and fix the child. Unfortunately, this method, may lead parents and educators to see the child as intentionally intending to disrupt or disturb others rather than as interpreting the child’s behavior as an expression of their emotions.

Therefore, recent research is encouraging methods following neuroscience principles, which focus on the relationship between parent and child, and educator and child, and which consider the impact of a child’s life experiences on their ability to approach their world with a regulated brain or avoid with a dis-regulated brain. When a child feels safe, supported and understood, a child’s resilience, their self-confidence and self-esteem is more likely to increase because the executive functions of their brains are active and the survival systems are calm. However, conversely, when a child feels unsafe because needs have not been met, then the result of a dis-regulated brain or activated survival systems, is that a child may avoid or withdraw from activities, sometimes lash out, become stuck and appear uninterested or unmotivated or even attempt to appease others in order to avoid fearful people or situations. Consequently, the neuroscience approach directs parents and educators to be aware of the child’s basic needs of sleep, nutrition, exercise and safety, assisting the child to increase their sense of control with increased resilience and increased motivation even when approaching stressful activities.

Therefore, the main focus is on the relationship between the parent and child, and between the educator and the child, because it is within the relationship that the child learns to feel safe and accepted, supported and understood. As a result, the child will then be more able to engage and enjoy the learning environment; emotionally, physically, cognitively and socially. In this way, the behavior is seen as a window into the child’s emotional state and more accurately defined as an expression of emotion because it provides insight into the core of the child’s emotional, physical, cognitive and social needs and provides strategies that enable adults to connect and engage with the child to facilitate and maintain increased well-being.

TIP: Be aware of the child’s emotional expression in all situations as this will guide the strategies that are implemented to support the child rather than change or fix the child.

2nd Australasian Conference for Neuroscience, Learning and Well-being, 30 & 31 March 2020;

Parenting Seminar 31 March 2020 Evening; One-Day Workshop 1 April 2020.

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