Dealing with purposeful misbehavior and teaching children to choose better behavior.
We were in the middle of giggling up a storm when my daughter stopped laughing and became very serious.
“Jen scratched my arm during art class. Twice!!”
I looked at my daughter as she started to cry.
“It hurt and I was really upset, so I pinched her back.”
So here was a child that had been lavishly praised by her teacher for being a “peace maker” and “problem solver.” On this day however she had not been able to make a better choice other than to hurt her classmate.
Then I had a light bulb moment.
My child is human, imperfect and growing. Every child makes mistakes as they grow.
Sometimes it’s really hard for children to choose a good response to being hurt or feeling frustrated.
Controlling What We Can and Learning From The Rest
We can’t control our children. We can only aim to teach them how to do better and how to develop skills to respond to difficult situations. Everyday of parenting is a chance to do this over and over again.
Children are much more likely to learn from positive interactions than negative ones.
While some parents may fear that being kind is going to lead to a misbehaving child, in truth, a child will want to listen to parental guidance when they can trust their parents and feel safe.
Traditional punishment and “discipline” techniques often focus on making a child feel badly about themselves and their behavior.
While dealing with defiance or lack of cooperation is difficult, children most often misbehave when they are already feeling uneasy, tired or overwhelmed.
Making my daughter feel worse about herself wasn’t going to help her understand that the behavior was unacceptable or inappropriate.
She already knew that what she did was wrong.
I’m sure of this. She was shaky, quiet and pushing back tears.
It was clear she was surprised and upset with her own choices.
Here’s what I knew for sure in that moment
If my daughter and I could work together to understand her choices, one day she may know how to deal with a similar situation without resorting to pushing or scratching back.
So that day, we focused on how to make amends, and how to calm down in heated moments, so she would have skills the next time something similar happened.
What encourages children to follow your guidance and change their behavior?
Positive Discipline in everyday parenting is about believing children will always choose better behaviors as soon as they feel ready and able to do so.
There is no need to shame, blame or punish children when they misbehave or make poor choices.Parents often deliberately shame their children into minding them without realizing the disruptive impact shame can have on a child’s sense of self.
Your child is going to feel ready and able to listen and respect you if you make the time to listen and respect them as well.
Children can learn how to regulate their emotions and their responses. It just takes time, practice and patience.
Even in high stress potentially “fight or flight” type of moments like a fight with a classmate or a power struggle with you, it is possible for your child to respond calmly.
But first let’s talk about Expectations
If you want your child to learn to make positive choices you must start by implementing a positive response to unhelpful behaviors yourself.
When your child misbehaves, you need to choose to see it as an opportunity to teach instead of punish.
This is not by any means an invitation to be permissive or dismissive of unsafe and unhelpful behaviors.
This is a reminder that children need practice and patience to develop appropriate responses.
It takes your presence, and offering your child a sense of safety to guide them back from anger, frustration and that place where acting out seems like the only option back into calm.
Ability and Reality Of Misbehavior
Children begin to understand expectations very early on, but need help to regulate their responses.
Basically, they “know better” but just can’t do any better in that moment.
If you ever yelled or lost it then you know exactly how it feels. Sometimes it’s just hard to do what’s right.
It’s not all your fault but also…
Much of how your child acts in response to stressful or difficult situations is learned by following what the adults in their life model.
How you handle high stress situations mirrors for your child what to do when they feel scared, overwhelmed and out of sorts.
How often do you yell or engage in a power struggle to get your child to do what you want them to do?
Why is it such a big surprise when children then turns around and screech, demand and refuse to cooperate?
The good news: Positive Discipline is an everyday imperfect journey for all of us.
What will ultimately help kids make better decisions is to practice both making mistakes without fear of “getting in trouble” and guidance from our part to walk them through when they mess up, “misbehave” and act out.
Here’s what Positive Discipline in your everyday parenting journey can look like:
Connect before you correct your child. It builds trust and opens space for listening. This also helps your child get back into a state of calm before you jump into telling them how to fix the behaviors that are unhelpful.
Some behaviors and choices are simpler to address. Place breakables out of reach, set routines and make agreements.
Other behaviors might take more time to understand and find positive solutions. When siblings fight a lot or nobody is listening, it’s helpful to observe patterns and work out possible solutions.
Parent coaching can be super helpful for persistant behavior problems. You can schedule an appointment for that here.
3. Follow through with kindness
By respecting your child’s needs for connection, love and acceptance, you create a sense of mutual respect and cooperation. This also means that when your child needs guidance, they will know they can trust you.
The great thing about positive discipline is that there are so many tool and so many possible solutions. On that particular day, after talking (actually mostly listening) my daughter made a plan for making amends.
Does it take more patience and practice to discipline in a positive way? Yes, but it really is worth the effort.
Trust and believe that your child is willing and capable of learning and growing and they will prove you right!
Peace & Be Well,