A toddler has a melt down at the store. Later, he takes a cookie without telling you and spits on the ground.
A preschooler throws his toys, refuses to help with clean up and later will not brush teeth or put on pajamas.
A tween shouts no, rolls her eyes and bangs the door,…
Often when children behave in unwanted ways, our first reaction as parents is to reach for punishments or consequences. Time out, grounding, no screen time…Handing out consequences may help us feel like we have done something about the unawantted behavior, but it just doesn’t help our children learn what to do instead of spitting, refusing and yelling.
Most unwanted behaviors come from unmet needs or because a child is missing information.
Misbehavior is a request for guidance.
Misbehavior is a chance to empathize and accept.
Using acceptance and empathy as the first step to overcome a challenging moment can go such a long way. If a child has a tantrum, throws something, bangs, breaks or otherwise does something that we may view as unwantted or unaceptable behavior we can:
- Accept that children have limitations
- Empathize that our child is having a hard time
- Accept that children have needs
- Empathize that our child’s needs, in that moment, are not being met.
- Accept that children will at times be frustrated, angry, mad, sad.
- Empathize that such strong feelings can be difficult to manage alone.
- Accept that children will at times be exuberant, loud, annoying.
- Empathize that our child in that moment has big emotions.
- Accept that children should and will at times challenge our reasons.
- Accept that children have their own thoughts and feeling.
- Empathize that our children often have no control over what is going on in their lives.
- Accept that children need an outlet for their thoughts and feelings.
- Accept that many such “mis”-behaviors are a developmentally appropriate.
Meeting misbehavior with empathy and acceptance does not mean being permissive. On the contrary, this means that as parents it is our responsibility to provide a safe environment for our children with certain limits and guidelines. We should be aware of our children’s needs and be pro-active in meeting them. (I note there is a huge distinction between needs & wants).
With empathy and acceptance, we can better help children learn to deal with their strong emotions. We can also respond instead of react and provide appropriate opportunities for children to explore and understand their own feelings behind loudness, exuberance, “defiance” and “stubborness.”
No matter if a child is, loud, scaling the furniture, melting down at the store, frustrated, mad, banging doors, crying, pushing, shoving, biting, yelling, talking balk or acting out…ultimately what they really need more than being taught a lesson, more than being sent to time out, more than being lectured or losing a privilege is empathy and acceptance.
From that moment on…when we accept our child for who they are and empathize with what they are feeling and dealing with in the here and now, we can then move on to validate them and seek to understand, connect and guide.
When we start with acceptance and empathy, no matter what the misbehavior, we can then choose a path to deal, heal, guide and re-connect.
Peace & Be Well,
In the book 12 Alternatives to Time Out: Connected Discipline Tools for Raising Cooperative Children you can find practical ways to guide children with parenting tools that foster emotional intelligence, learning and self-regulation.