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Behavior, Understanding & Language:  How are the three related?

Parents and professional often assume that a child’s behavior will improve when his language skills and understanding advance.  While this may be true, it clearly is not always true. 

Consider this hypothetical example of the different relationships that may exist between a child’s behavior and his understanding:

 
 

 

Johnny is a 2 year old that runs into the

street.  As shown on the graph to the left,

this behavior is poor and Johnny also has

poor understanding of why his behavior

is wrong.

 

 

Good

       

Poor

       
         
   

Behavior

 

Understanding

Johnny is provided with immediate, strong, and consistent consequences by his parent.  By age 2½ he no longer runs into the street.  Thus, he has good behavior, even though he still has poor understanding of why the behavior is wrong.

 

Good

       

Poor

       
         
   

Behavior

 

Understanding

Johnny is 4 years old.  He now has good

understanding of why running into the street is

wrong, however one day, he carelessly ran into the

street after his favorite ball.  His behavior was

poor, even though his understanding was good.

 

Good

       

Poor

       
         
   

Behavior

 

Understanding

 

By the time Johnny is 5, he has excellent

Behavior (i.e., he avoids the street), and he

also fully understands why it is wrong to

run into the street (i.e., he could be hurt,

others love him).

 

 

Good

       

Poor

       
         
   

Behavior

 

Understanding

Now consider this hypothetical example of the different relationships that may exist between a child’s behavior and her language skills:

Good

     

 

At 2 years old Suzy’s language skills are poor

and she also demonstrates poor behavior            (i.e., tantrums, aggression, defiance).

 

 

Poor

       
         
   

Behavior

 

Language Skills

Good

     

Suzy’s parents use solid behavior management 

techniques and by age 2½ Suzy demonstrates

positive behavior.  Thus, she has good

behavior, even though her language skills

remain poor.

 

 

Poor

       
         
   

Behavior

 

Language Skills

 

By age 3, Suzy’s language skills have

improved.  Further, her behavior continues

to be positive.

 

Good

       

Poor

       
         
   

Behavior

 

Language Skills

At age 13, Suzy’s language skills remain

Excellent, however she shows some

adolescent verbal and behavioral defiance. 

(Happily, Suzy’s parents set firm limits and

Suzy goes on to again show positive behavior)!

 

Good

       

Poor

       
         
   

Behavior

 

Language Skills

In our 8 examples, we see that Understanding, Language, and Behavior CAN BE related, YET they can also be independent of one another.  Increased Language or Understanding MAY indeed help a child improve his/her Behavior, however there is NOT a “guaranteed” relationship between Understanding,  Language, and Behavior.  It is therefore important and beneficial to implement solid behavior management strategies very early in your child’s life, even prior to your child having a full understanding or a strong ability to communicate.

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