3 Myths of Misbehaving Kids (Pt 4 of 4 Childhood Development Series)
As the last part of my child development series, I’m inviting you to explore behavior development. This is where there is a lot more to understand behind the scenes than the actions we see. Most often, we are focused on our children’s misbehavior. Their “acting out” behavior. We are tempted to label these outbursts because we are trying to understand the “WHY” of their misbehavior. We might even hear ourselves say “Why did you do that?” or “What were you thinking?”
Understandably, this can be very stressful for a parent who cannot begin to understand what is going on with their child's development. And I posit that no matter how well you know your child or how many times you talk with him, neither one of you will ever get a satisfactory answer to that question. But I do have an answer. And many parents are surprised to hear it.
Children misbehave because they are human.
And humans are unique in the animal kingdom as we are the only animals that, when told to do something, say “You can’t make me.” As a parent, you understand the frustration of NOT being able to make your children behave the way you want them to. Even though they are tiny, they have free will and do not want to do what we want them to.
Many parents believe they must respond within a reasonable time to communicate whether you will tolerate a behavior or discipline a behavior. And they are right but parents have more time than they think. It may seem counterintuitive but it’s better to “strike while the iron is cold” when delivering a consequence for misbehavior.
Whether you see the action as a problem or not, I follow my grandmother’s adage, “nip it in the bud.” What does that mean? It means that it is much easier to end misbehavior during your baby's most crucial child development years and address it before it blooms into a larger problem. Child development requires a stable and consistent environment where social, emotional, physical, and behavioral boundaries are in place. I promise this is much easier than it sounds.
We all have boundaries and limits. All it takes is a day of practicing awareness and noting where yours are (as mentioned in my previous segment, comparing your values to another’s is not productive). That’s your starting point to creating a foundation of limits and boundaries for your family. When a child wants to do something that goes against your foundation (I work with clients to create a mission statement from this principle), it’s very easy to say “no” guilt-free!
As parents, we have the responsibility to be intentional about how we respond to our child’s misbehaviors. Sometimes it’s hard to know when we are being reasonable and flexible or enabling. Here are three myth busters about why children misbehave.
It’s the Mother’s Fault
Parenting does NOT produce the child. Yes, that’s right. I’ll say it again (because the opposite sentiment is widely believed).
Parenting. Does. Not. Produce. The. Child.
Your child’s behaviors are a reflection of them. It’s not a reflection of your mood, temperaments, or parenting style; it is a part of their development. They come into this world with their own talents, gifts, and personalities. Even so, we as parents have incredible influence over our children. We guide them, we teach them our versions of right vs wrong, we teach them our family morals, values, traditions, we create new ones, etc. We influence our children but we do not make them who they are. That, ultimately, is up to them. But creating a solid foundation for them and creating a soft place for them to land when they need it will help them to be the very best version of them they can be.
There’s Nothing I Can Do
Sometimes, it is easy to whine about your child’s behaviors and to throw in the towel so to speak. Adopting the “oh woe is me” mindset, where you give up and wonder why you were blessed with a difficult child. Instead, you should look for the many moments during the day when you can help your child's development of self-control. Yes, it’s harder to do and requires more effort on your part, but their misbehavior is not the end-all and be-all that defines the child. It is essential to understand that it’s not the child’s character that is in question, but their behavior, which is within your control to develop. I teach my clients time-tested parenting skills that are self-reinforcing. These parenting strategies encourage behaviors you do so your children will become (reasonably) well-behaved.
Carrying the Monkey
One of the hardest things about building boundaries to teach your child appropriate behaviors is the fear that you may hurt his feelings or have to deal with their anger. Many parents avoid discipline or guidance of their child's development of good behaviors they want to see in their kids. It's difficult to take on the responsibility for their child’s actions. I teach my clients how to let the monkey stay on their child’s back. How? By allowing children to suffer the natural consequences of their actions, for one.
Sometimes, the moms I work with worry that their child may somehow reject them or stop loving them when they guide them to behave the way they want. I understand that. I’ve been there. And yet, it’s not true. Our children love us and allowing our children to experience the unpleasant emotions from their actions is not enough to break that love.
So what can a parent do after their 7-year-old is heartbroken because they can’t watch a PG-13 movie that “all their friends” are going to see? Talk about it when they are ready. I recommend that my clients purchase an “emotions poster” and keep it hanging in a common area or their child’s room. Children love seeing the faces of other children and identifying the feeling word with it.
A word of caution here. Most parents overdo it with talking. The less said, the better. It’s fine to check in with your child and see how he is feeling about it but don’t push it if he doesn’t want to talk. Give him space, be available, and move on. If you harp on it, he will have a hard time processing it and moving on.
Conversely, if we intentionally avoid dealing with our kids' feelings, we are neglecting a vital part of their development. Author Andy Smithson writes,
The sign of great parenting is not the child’s behavior. The sign of great parenting is the parent’s behavior.
The better alternative is to empathize with your child instead of sympathizing with their misbehavior. It gives your child a chance to take responsibility for their own choices and emotions.