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  • Sarina Shirazee

I didn't want you to peel my banana!

Parents, ever wondered why some days your child is happy to have you peel their banana for them, but on another day, it makes them fly off the handle?! Similarly, teachers, have you ever thought that your student’s behaviour is completely unpredictable?⠀

It could be the “multiplier effect”, coined by Dr Stuart Shanker. ⠀

It’s what adults might refer to as “the last straw” or the “straw that broke the camel’s back”, ie, the seemingly minor event that causes an unpredictably large or sudden reaction, because of the cumulative effect of small events.⠀

The difference is, as an adult, you can probably identify all of these small events, even if only in hindsight, whereas for a child, they’re usually hidden. ⠀

And the effects of more stressors don’t simply “add up”, they “multiply”. ⠀

Dr Stuart Shanker refers to these “hidden stressors” belonging to five domains - biological (eg hunger, tiredness), emotional (eg loneliness, nightmares), cognitive (eg making decisions, learning new things), social (eg a different teacher, conflict with peers), or prosocial (eg taking turns). ⠀

The difference in a child’s reaction to a particular situation could be how many of these stressors are present. The more that are present, the less it takes for a child to react, or the bigger their reaction might be to a seemingly trivial situation. ⠀

Kids won’t know themselves that these stressors are at play, let alone be able to tell us. It’s our job as adults to do the detective work, particularly for younger children, and figure this out. And if we can’t, we keep in mind that there’s no such thing as a bad kid, only a stressed one, and we empathise, set boundaries with kindness, and co-regulate.⠀

The next time you see “problem” behaviour from a child, think of it as “stress” behaviour, play detective, and explore what’s lying beneath the surface. Common stressors to consider:⠀

• Lack of sleep⠀

• Hunger⠀

• Understimulation/Overstimulation⠀

• Sick/getting sick/recently sick⠀

• Uncomfortable⠀

• Time pressure⠀

• Change of routine⠀

• Challenging task⠀

• Conflict with friends⠀

• Missing time with loved ones⠀

• Fear of punishment⠀

• Feeling misunderstood

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