How to look for patterns in your child

At a glance

  • Lots of families have trouble making sense of their child’s behavior.

  • If you look closely over time, you can usually find patterns.

  • Taking notes can help you find these patterns and start to look for solutions.

Do you ever ask yourself, “Why does my child...?” Maybe your child suddenly started acting out, and it feels random. Or maybe certain tasks are really hard for your child, and it seems like there’s no reason for it.

If you don’t understand why your child acts a certain way, you’re not alone. Lots of families have trouble making sense of what their kids do and say. But kids’ behavior can be a way of expressing something they can’t explain. This is often true of kids who are struggling in some way at school.

Like many families, you may feel like your child’s behavior is hard to predict. But in most cases, if you look closely over time, you can find patterns. Taking a few notes can help you find these patterns and start to look for solutions.

Take notes on certain details.

Jot down a few details to help you look for patterns over time. During calm moments, you can ask your child for feedback on these questions, too.

  • When did the behavior happen? What time was it? Which day of the week?

  • What was your child doing just before things got tense? Playing a video game? Starting math homework?

  • How could you tell your child was getting upset?

  • Who else was around? Did they stay calm or react in unhelpful ways?

  • What helped your child calm down? How long did it take? 

Share your notes.

When you’re looking for patterns in your child’s behavior, it helps to brainstorm with other caring adults.

Sharing your notes with your child’s health care provider, teacher, or a trusted friend can help them understand what’s going on. You can describe what you’re seeing and ask them what they’ve noticed. They may suggest that you look for specific things. Or they may have ideas for ways to help.

Say your child gets upset whenever you watch a basketball game together. The teacher may ask you if your child gets upset when you ask what the score is. Or if your child seems restless sitting still for the whole game. What happens just before your child has a tantrum or a meltdown?

When you write down these kinds of details, you’re logging important clues that can help you and others get a better sense of what your child is experiencing.

Use our tool to start keeping track of what’s happening, and then look for patterns.

Key takeaways

  • Taking notes on details can help you zero in on what’s causing your child to react in certain ways.

  • Sharing notes with other caring adults lets you work together to find patterns.

  • Knowing what’s behind your child’s actions lets you find specific ways to help.


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