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Stress-Behaviour in Disguise

In the chaotic world of parenting, teaching, and nurturing young minds, we often find ourselves grappling with behaviors that, on the surface, appear as deliberate acts of defiance or disobedience. As caregivers, educators, and leaders, deciphering these actions can be perplexing, leaving us frustrated and exhausted in our attempts to address what seems like misbehavior. However, what if I told you that behind these challenging actions lies a deeper truth—one that speaks not of intentional wrongdoing but of a stress load too heavy to bear? A stress

With a Self-Reg lens, we can reframe misbehaviour for what it truly is: stress-behaviour, stemming from the overflowing backpack of stressors that our young ones carry. Understanding this pivotal distinction in children, youth and adults alike is not just crucial; it’s a game-changer.

Misbehaviour vs. Stress-Behaviour

Misbehaviour refers to actions that are both voluntary and intentional. That means, actions that the agent could have inhibited, and actions that are done for a reason.

Stress-behaviour refers to actions that are voluntary, but are not intentional. That is, actions that the agent could have inhibited, but not actions that were done for a reason. Instead, they were caused by subcortical impulses. 

Behaviour and the Brain

These subcortical impulses are triggered by homeostatic imbalances in the Gray Brain, or by hyperarousal in the Red Brain. There is a bi-directional axis between the limbic system and the midbrain, such that homeostatic imbalances in the midbrain can cause limbic hyperarousal, and limbic hyperarousal can cause homeostatic imbalances in the midbrain.

There are numerous signs of stress-behaviour: e.g., changes in vocal pitch, face colour, eye gaze, gestures, posture. The reason why it is so important to recognize the signs of stress-behaviour is that, when misconstrued as misbehaviour, and punished accordingly, this exacerbates limbic-midbrain hyperarousal. 

Herein lies one of the major reasons why it is crucial to distinguish between self-regulation and self-control.

“Yeah, but…” Learn Self-Reg

Whether you are new to Self-Reg or well along your Self-Reg learning journey, there will be behaviours we experience from those in our care, other adults and even see in ourselves that make us question: stress-behaviour or misbehaviour? Whether in the moment or after some restoration and reflection, we realize that those “Yeah, but…” moments are invitations to reframe and a challenge for us to dive deeper.

Here are some tools, blogs and some extra learning that can help us in those moments:

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