Tag Archive for misbehavior

OOPS, My Mistake VS. My Child’s Mistake

The other day I made a mistake…or should I say another mistake. It’s true. It was actually one of the many mistakes I’ve made over my lifetime. Anyway, I made a mistake. Fortunately, my life is full of gracious people who acknowledged my mistake and continued to love me. Sure, they got a little upset…and some even laugh about my mistake. But they still helped me learn to avoid the same mistake in the future. And, as a result, I did learn. I grew; and hopefully I’ll avoid repeating that mistake in the future.

All this “got me thinking.” Children, like adults, make mistakes. Sometimes they make mistakes because of a lack of knowledge. Sometimes they make mistakes trying to “get away with something.” Sometimes they simply make a mistake. I have to say, as an adult, I have made mistakes for the same three reasons. Haven’t you?

But there seems to be a difference in how people respond to the mistake I make as an adult and the mistake a child makes. Let me explain. When a child makes a mistake, adults often seem to get angry. They treat the child’s mistake as an afront to their parenthood and their authority. They yell, often making the child feel worse and as though that mistake has defined them as a person. They dismiss the child’s explanations as excuses, often not even considering any positive intent behind his mistaken actions or words. They punish the child, sometimes harshly and in anger. And many do not teach the child how to avoid the mistake in the future.

However, when I make a mistake as an adult, the people in my life trust me to learn and grow from the natural consequence of my mistake. Even if they are upset or angry, they remain respectful. No one really yells. Many even listen to the explanations I give for my mistaken behavior. They allow me to explain the intent behind my actions…even if they disagree, they accept my explanation. They accept my intent while offering me guidance on how to avoid the mistake while achieving that intent in the future. All the while, they remain respectful (even in their anger) and they speak to me in a way that can help me listen.

If my friends and my family responded to my mistake in the same manner that I often see adults respond to a child’s mistake, I would walk away. I’d feel hurt, dishonored, even abused. I wouldn’t learn. I wouldn’t grow. I’d get defensive. I might even end the friendship. What makes us think children feel differently?

This leads me to an important lesson I learned about correcting my children…our children. Our children will respond to correction and discipline more readily when we approach them with respect. They will learn and grow when we take the time to learn about the intent and motivation behind their inappropriate behavior or words before respectfully pointing out what they did wrong. They will mature as we listen carefully, not just to their words but to the message of their behavior, before we offer them loving guidance on how to behave differently in the future.

In other words, our children will learn from their mistakes more readily when we approach them with the same respect that we give our adult friends. They will grow more mature when we approach them with the expectation that they want to learn and grow. We can all learn and grow from our mistakes, adults and children alike, when we approach both with acceptance, respect, and love.  

Your Toddler’s Impression Management & You

I love children’s research…and how it applies to our families. For instance, a recent set of four studies out of Emory University involved 144 children 14- to 24-months-old and a remote-controlled robot.  In the first experiment, an adult showed the toddler how to use the remote to operate the robot. Then the adult either watched the toddler or turned away to read a magazine. The toddler showed more inhibition playing with the remote when the adult watched them. No real surprise, I guess. Let’s move on to the second experiment.

In the second experiment, one adult had two remotes. When using the first remote, the adult smiled and said,”Wow! Isn’t that great?” But, when using the second remote, the adult said, “Uh-oh! Oops, oh no!” The adult then left the remotes and stepped away. He either watched the toddler or turned away to read the magazine. The toddler pressed the buttons on the remote that seemed to elicit apositive response from the adult when the adult watched him. However, when the adult looked at the magazine, the toddler pushed more buttons on the remote that was associated with the negative response! Hmmmm. Starting to get a little more interesting.

The third experiment was similar to the second. However, the adult simply gave the neutral response of “Oh, wow” to both remotes. Now the toddler did not choose one remote over the other depending on whether the adult watched. This “control experiment” reveals that the adult’s initial response has an impact on the toddler’s later response to the remotes.

Finally, the fourth experiment used two adults sitting next to one another sharing one remote. One adult smiled and gave the positive response “Yay! The toy moved” when pressing the buttons of the remote. The second adult frowned and said, “Yuck! The toy moved” when pressing the same remote. Now, both adults stepped away to watch the toddler or read a magazine. The toddler played with the remote significantly more often when the adult who gave the positive response was watching.

Think about what the toddlers did in these experiments.

  1. The toddlers modified their behavior to please the one watching them…but only when the one watching had given a positive response to the toy.
  2. The toddlers explored the remote that elicited a negative response when the adult was not looking but used the remote that elicited a positive response when the adult was looking.
  3. The toddlers didn’t change their behavior for the adult who simply gave a neutral or negative response to the remote.

Did you catch the underlying message? Toddlers care about their image, how others perceive them. They modified their behavior in response to the adult watching them and that adult’s enacted values. They wanted that adult to think the best of them. They were concerned with impression management. Let’s apply that impression management to your parenting.

  1. Children want to please their parents, the adult who interacts with them the most. So, if you want to influence your children, engage them. Interact with them. Let them witness what you like, the values that energize you and the people that bring you joy. They will seek similar behaviors.
  2. Children engage in those activities that please their parents, especially when their parents are watching them. Keep an eye on your children. Give them freedom, but build your presence into their lives so they “take you with them” wherever they go.  
  3. On the other hand, children may explore those things they know their parents dislike. The more adamantly a parent expresses dislike in something, the more curious children become. However, a parental neutral response does not elicit the same curiosity (see experiment number three above). So, energetically identify those values and activities you like but use a more neutral, less energetic tone in addressing those values and activities with which you disagree. (Taking Verbal Snapshots can help.)

Our toddlers are invested in impression management. They want you to think highly of them. Use that to help instill positive values and behaviors in your children. 

Parenting & Science

Remember way back in middle school, maybe even elementary school, when you first learned the “scientific method”? If so, you might remember the first step in the scientific method. The very first step any good scientist makes is on of observation. She becomes curious about some event or experience she observed. Her observations lead her to recognize patterns and those patterns raise interesting questions. What’s happening? How did it start? What are the possible outcomes? What forces create the event? Interesting questions then lead to compelling hypotheses and exciting research to assess the possible patterns.

Like effective scientific research, effective parenting begins with observation. Effective parents observe their children with a keen curiosity. When we sit back and observe and, by doing so, we learn about our children. We begin to see patterns in their personality. We recognize their strengths and identify their areas of growth. Observation helps us learn patterns like how they interact, resolve conflict, and solve problems. We learn what bothers them, what interests them, and so much more.  Recognizing all these patterns and characteristics in our children increases our trust in them. We better appreciate their abilities and, as a result, let them practice more independence. Observation also helps us discipline more effectively. We will know how to best intervene when the need arises. In other words, observation helps us identify various patterns in our children behaviors and personality. When something unusual happens, our observations allow us to ask interesting questions. Those interesting questions eventually become compelling hypotheses that help us intervene effectively to teach our children what they need to grow and mature.  (Read Parents as Perpetual Students for more on parenting effectively by observing our children.) So, begin your parenting efforts like a scientist. Sit back and observe. Let your curiosity grow and learn about your children. You will love the results.

Fix It, Clean It, Replace It, or Lose It

I worked as a school-based therapist in an inner-city middle school for several years. It was a great experience. I met many wonderful students and amazing teachers. Still, at times I thought we missed the mark when responding to students’ misbehavior. For example, one day a group of girls had a “wet paper towel party” in the bathroom. They soaked paper towels in water and threw them against the walls and ceiling. Soaked with water, these wads of paper towels stuck to every surface they hit. The girls left the bathroom a mess, globs of wet paper towels hanging all over the surface of walls and ceiling. The staff chose to suspend the girls for three days as a consequence. By simply suspending these young A man chained to a problem. White background. 3d renderladies, we missed an opportunity to teach them an important lesson. They enjoyed three days off school and, at best, learned how to have irresponsible fun and get a vacation. Perhaps we would have taught a more important lesson by offering a consequence directly connected to their behavior. For instance, a more logical consequence of the girls’ behavior would have been keeping them after school for three days to help the custodian clean the bathrooms. This would more likely teach the girls respect for property and personal responsibility while encouraging more responsible decision-making in the future.

The same principal of consequences applies at home when we discipline our children. Simply sending a child to their room for a day or grounding them for a week does little to encourage responsible decision making in the future. Instead, offer a consequence related to the misbehavior, a logical consequence. Let them fix it, clean it, replace it, or lose it…whichever represents a logical result of their behavior. Let me give you some examples:

  • When your child refuses to get up for school, let them get to school late and suffer the usual consequences for tardiness.
  • When your child waits until the last minute to complete a project and then does not have the needed materials, don’t rush out to get it. Let them find a way to get it or suffer the consequences of an incomplete school project.
  • If your child does not finish their assigned chore, let them stay in (not playing their video game or watching TV or some other “fun” activity) until it is done.
  • If your child refuses to eat an appropriate amount of their supper, they miss out on dessert.
  • If your child breaks a window, they can work to earn the money to replace it and help in the actual replacement of it.

These all represent logical consequences. However, sometimes the results of misbehavior offer consequences enough. We simply need to step back and allow those natural consequences to happen rather than bail them out. Here are a few examples of natural consequences:

  • Your child refuses to eat and they go hungry until the next meal.
  • Your child refuses to wear a jacket on a cold morning and they get cold.
  • Your child does not hand in his homework and he gets a lower grade in that class.
  • Your child gets angry and breaks their phone (or is careless and loses it), so they do not have a phone until the next contract comes up.
  • Your teen driver carelessly has a fender bender so they have no mode of transportation while the car is fixed.

Using logical and natural consequences take effort on the part of the parent. We have to stay calm and allow the natural consequence to occur or we have to think of an appropriate logical consequence. But, the results are well worth the extra time and effort. What’s the result? A child who learns from their mistakes and makes adjustments in their behavior to avoid the consequences in the future. In other words, a wise child!

3 Steps to Teach Children Better Behavior

Effective discipline involves teaching appropriate behavior, not just punishing negative behavior. In fact, the most effective discipline focuses first and foremost on teaching positive behaviors with these three steps.

  1. Mother And Son Doing LaundryModel the behavior you want to see in your children. If you want honest children, model honesty. Tell them the truth. Keep your promises so they know “your word is good” and truthful. If you want your children to avoid drugs and alcohol, live a drug-free lifestyle. If you desire polite and considerate children, be polite and considerate to your children as well as the adults around you. if you want children who have clear boundaries, set clear boundaries yourself. if you notice your children consistently engaging in some negative behavior, check your own behavior. Make sure you are not modeling that behavior in some way. Teaching positive behavior begins with you your own behavior. Model the behavior you want to see in your children.
  2. Point out the effect of you children’s misbehavior on those around them. Statements like “If you run through the crowd, you might knock someone down and hurt them,” “Your friend is sad because you won’t share,” “People in this restaurant are getting irritated with your loud behavior.” Pointing out the effect of their behavior on others can help your children learn to consider the consequences of their behavior, recognize how others are responding to their behavior, and to have empathy for others.
  3. Teach your children the behavior you desire. Don’t expect your children to know what behavior you expect. Show it to them. Explain it to them clearly. This may be as simple as cleaning their room with them or folding clothes with them so you can teach as you go. It can also include heart to heart discussions on topics like drugs, public behaviors, dating boundaries, expectations around driving. You could speak about these topics directly or through characters in stories or movies, current events, or experiences of friends. Whatever the topic, keep the expectations clear and concise. Avoid lecturing and nagging. Just dive in clear, concise and to the point. I know. It may seem like our children should already know better. But, how will they know unless we teach them? We need to make sure they know. So teach them again. The conversation may feel awkward; but a little awkwardness is worth the assurance that our children know exactly what is expected of them. And, that awkward conversation will actually contribute to a deeper relationship as well.

For a great example of this behavior read Dunkin’ Donuts & a Better Behaved Child and notice how this mother:

  1. Modeled the behavior she desired by staying calm.
  2. Explained the effects of her child’s behavior on others.
  3. Taught her child the behavior she desired.

Enjoyed the results!

Oh, Those Cute Little Attention Suckers

Children crave our attention. They constantly bid for our interactive presence in their life. Exhausted MomThey want us to join them in their world—to become present in their life, and to remain aware of their presence in our life. And, our children will do whatever it takes to make sure they maintain our attention. You have experienced this, I’m sure. Your child is sitting quietly in a room doing their own thing. The phone rings and you begin a conversation with one of your friends. Suddenly, your child wants to ask you questions…they need your help…they want to talk. You ask them to leave you alone for a moment while you talk on the phone. The next thing you know, they are picking up your crystal vase or doing cartwheels in the dining room. They have turned into an attention sucking vampire. Underneath all their questions and crazy behavior, they simply crave your attention and will do whatever it takes to get it! But wait…do not read too many negative intentions into this desire for recognition and attention. After all, they really do need us to survive. Children need us for everything from managing their emotions to regulating their impulses to providing them with food. Still, the little attention sucking vampires can drain a parent of energy. So, what is a parent to do? Here are a couple suggestions to help your child develop a healthy level of attention seeking behavior. It begins with us giving them positive attention.

  1. Catch ’em being good. I realize this is an old saying and perhaps sounds a little cliché; but, if you practice catching your children being good, their negative attention seeking behavior will decrease. They will learn that you are not only aware of their presence, but you are pleased with their presence in your life as well. They will know you delight in them. If you do not “catch ’em being good,” your children will learn that being bad will definitely get your energy and your complete attention…and negative attention is better than no attention. So, put in the effort to “catch ’em being good” every day.
  2. Play with them every day. Take some time every day to engage your children in some playful activity. Let them pick the activity. The activity can range from reading a book to going to a park to playing with dolls. Whatever activity you choose, spend the time focused on your child. Notice their strengths and acknowledge their imagination. Support their creativity. Laugh. Hug. Play.
  3. Respond to your children quickly. Do not ignore your children’s requests. Respond to them. You do not always have to say “yes,” but have the respect to respond. When your children begin to “act up,” respond quickly. If they begin to get angry or frustrated, respond early. Do not let them escalate before responding. If you do not respond quickly, your children will escalate. Their attention seeking behavior will become more adamant and intense. Their frustration will become a tantrum. Their “acting up” will quickly get out of hand. Why? Because they have learned that they have to escalate to get your attention. When you respond quickly, your children learn that they have your attention before they escalate.
  4. Acknowledge your children’s desire non-verbally when you are busy. If you are talking to a friend and your children come up to get something from you, put your arm around them. If your children begin to tell you something when you are not able to answer in length, simply let them know you will “answer them in a minute.” Then immediately address their need when you can. By acknowledging their presence and their need, you have let them know you are aware of them. They are on your mind. By addressing their need as soon as you can, you build trust. Your children learn to wait because they can trust you not to forget them in the process.


These four suggestions can help turn your cute little attention sucking vampire into a teddy bear, a child who knows his parents delight in him and hold him in mind. He will trust his parents to provide the attention he needs and seek that attention in more positive ways.

Parents, Get Out of the Reaction Rut

Many parents believe that a good punishment will end misbehavior. “If the punishment is military policepowerful enough, children will learn their lesson.” “If we just have enough rules, our children will be good.” Unfortunately, these statements are not true. The key to addressing our children’s misbehavior is NOT punishment. In fact, there is no single key to addressing misbehavior. Addressing misbehavior is actually more like putting a puzzle together…there are many parts to the puzzle and they have to be assembled in the right way to make a complete picture.  One piece of that puzzle is realizing the need to address the before, during, and after phases of behavior.


The Before Phase: We can avoid many incidents of misbehavior simply by planning ahead and preparing our children for upcoming events. We do this naturally with toddlers when we put safety locks on cupboards even before we bring them home from the hospital or remember to take their favorite blanket on our trip to grandma’s house before they even ask about it. As our children grow, we continue to address potential problem areas by establishing routines. For instance, a good bedtime routine can prevent many difficulties that occur around the process of getting our children to bed.  Mealtime routines, morning routines, and cleaning routines all help prevent unwanted behaviors as well as teaching daily life skills. Parents can also prevent unwanted behaviors during the “Before Phase” by talking with their children about “what’s next.” For instance, explaining the purpose of a “store run” as well as the expected behavior can often prevent misbehavior. If there is an especially problematic situation that you consistently run into, you may want to role play that event at home. You can then take a few “trial runs” in which you simply go through the motions of an activity without having to accomplish any particular goal (like going through a grocery store without any intention of buying anything). Practicing behaviors in the Before Phase can prevent many unwanted behaviors and teach desired behaviors at the same time.


The During Phase: No matter how much we plan ahead, our children will still misbehave at times. The key to responding during the event is to intervene rapidly and calmly to redirect the unwanted behavior. Intervene rapidly. Intervene as early in the behavior as you can. Do not let the behavior escalate; intervene early. Intervene calmly. Children follow a parent’s lead. If the parent escalates, the child escalates. If the parent stays calm, there is a greater chance the child will calm.  Redirect the behavior. Rather than simply complain about the misbehavior and tell them to stop, redirect them to another more appropriate behavior. Doing so offers your child a solution to the question, “What can I do then?”

Woman - Tough Rapper

The After Phase: After the misbehavior has stopped and all parties have calmed down, discuss what happened. The After Phase is a wonderful time for teaching. Discuss why the misbehavior is not wanted, restate the expectations and boundaries. Teach your children what other behaviors (appropriate behaviors) they can engage in. An important and often overlooked aspect of teaching appropriate behavior is to set firm limits and clear expectations while showing empathy and compassion for your children’s desires. Help them learn that you empathize with their feelings, wants, and desire, but you also have firm behavioral limits and expectations that need to be met. For instance, you empathize with their anger, but have a clear expectation of appropriate ways to express anger…teach them the expectation. Or, you empathize with their boredom and their desire to run around, but have clear limits on the appropriate places and activities in which running around is allowed…teach them the limits and appropriate activities for the appropriate place.


Responding to misbehavior in the Before Phase, the During Phase, and the After Phase will help you get out of the rut of reacting to misbehavior and into the joy of teaching the behavior you desire for your children.

Why Do Children Misbehave?

Parents often ask me how to change their children’s behavior. There are often several factors that contribute to children’s misbehaviors. And, each of these factors influence how a parent can best respond. Let me list just four factors that might influence children’s misbehavior…and a good response to each one.Exhausted Mom

  • Children may misbehave out of a desire to confirm the limits. Children need limits. They will often test the limit or work to confirm that limit in their own mind. They might do this by misbehaving, looking at a parent as they prepare to misbehave, telling on another child, or simply asking for confirmation. These actions either confirm or test limits the parent has already established. Parents often see this behavior as an effort to assert power. However, children need firm limits to establish a sense of safety. Engaging in this “limit testing” behavior is like leaning on a fence. It confirms the strength of the fence and so the ability of the fence to keep us safe.

o    Remember, it is your children’s job to test the limits. Our job is to consistently and respectfully reinforce the limit. Explain the limit beforehand. Remind them of the limit. Explain alternative behaviors allowed within the limit. Allow natural consequences to occur when they break the limit.

  • Children may misbehave out of a desire to gain attention. Children need to know that their parents are available to them. They want to know their parents delight in them and watch over them. When they feel threatened in any way or fearful of something inside them or around them, they will seek attention. This could be as simple as feeling overwhelmed and threatened by all the sights, sounds, and traffic of a store…or by watching their parent giving attention to a person on the other end of the telephone. When children perceive a threat or feel some fear, they will often “act out” to gain their parents’ attention and confirm their availability.

o    Remember, your children need to know you delight in them, watch over them, and remain available to them. Respond to their material and emotional needs.  Comfort them in the face of overwhelming situations. Help them understand their feelings and teach them healthy ways of responding to personal fears. Remain responsive to their needs.

  • Children may misbehave out of a desire to feel adequate. Childhood is full of challenges…and comparisons. Children compete with each other. They also get judged by their performance every day in school.  It is easy in the midst of the demands of home (chores), school (classroom behavior, homework, tests), and friends (how to fit in), to experience feelings of inadequacy. In the midst of these challenges, children need recognized and reaffirmed. If they do not receive that recognition they may misbehave to get it.

o    Remember, your children need to know that your acceptance and love is not based on their performance ability in sports or academics. Instead, encourage them to simply do their best. Teach them that achieving to the best of their ability brings personal satisfaction. Allow them to explore their interests and to invest in areas they find most motivating. Take a personal interest in those activities yourself…it will show your children how much you value them and their interests!

  • Angry little girl with beautiful hairstyleChildren may misbehave out of a desire to communicate a priority. This often comes across like anger or revenge. We tend to become angry about those things we find important. The same is true for our children. Perhaps they misbehave because they are angry and feel unheard or unimportant or neglected. If you search under the angry behavior you may find the priority of wanting to be heard, viewed as important, or paid attention to. Of course, the misbehavior miscommunicates this priority and need. We have to teach them how to communicate this priority in a way others, including us, can better understand it.

o    Remember, your children have feelings too. Emotions are not bad in themselves. They are opportunities to connect and learn about one another. We do want to teach our children how to express their emotions in a way that will help others understand and respond. In addition, when our response is directly in response to their need or priority, we take a big step in reducing their anger. When a person feels heard, anger often dissipates.


Knowing why our children misbehave or what influences their misbehavior will give us insight into how to respond to that misbehavior. Look past the behavior into the deeper influences. As you address these underlying factors over time you will see your children’s behavior improve.

Misbehavior: A Call for Love?

“Why do they do it?” I ask, pulling my hair out in frustration. “Why do they continue to misbehave?” Good question. After all, we teach our children to make wise choices and they continue to misbehave. Sometimes it’s just immaturity, but they continue to misbehave as they mature…why? Parenting experts offer some interesting insights in this regard. Some have said that “Behaviors such as complaining, worrying, shouting, and nagging are all disguised calls for love” (G. Godek). A call for love, eh? Well, “it ain’t working.” Still, I do believe it is true. When children are scared or confused or when they feel threatened or disconnected, they will “call for love.” They “call for love” through their behavior…and, misbehavior represents an ineffective communication of that need. Misbehavior, a miscommunicated “call for love,” may flow from any of four directions. Let’s look at them one at a time. 
     1.      A child’s “call for love” may flow from a desire for attention. Everyone desires attention. We know someone loves us when they pay attention to us. If a person consistently ignores us, we assume they don’t really like us that much. If, in the midst of busy schedules, our child finds it difficult to elicit our undivided attention, he may learn to get our undivided attention through misbehavior. He may learn that “good behavior” elicits very little attention while misbehavior leads to energetic attention and interaction, that simple misbehavior demands our immediate attention. We may unintentionally teach him that needing constant reminders, coaxing, and nagging elicits our attention. In a child’s world, attention equals love and negative attention is better than no attention at all. Parents can respond to this “call for love” by giving their child positive attention when opportunities arise. Plan one-on-one time with him. Encourage him. Acknowledge his appropriate behavior with simple comments. Establish routines of connection at bedtime, mealtime, and morning. 
2.      A child’s “call for love” may also flow from feeling inadequate. A child who feels inadequate often believes that he does not belong unless he is perfect. Parents may have contributed to this belief with unrealistic expectations or overly critical responses. Whatever the contributors, this child gives up or misbehaves so others will leave him alone, view him as helpless, and hold him to low expectations. The child who feels inadequate has a deep-seated need for someone to believe in him. Parents can respond to this “call for love” by stopping any undue criticism. Offer encouragement for positive effort and behavior instead. Focus on strengths and abilities. Set up opportunities for successes. Build on his interests and strengths. Enjoy your child’s strengths and let him know you enjoy him.
3.      A child’s “call for love” may erupt from feeling powerless. A child who feels powerless believes that she is only worthy when she is in control. She may even fear the unpredictability of feeling out of control. One of the easiest ways to feel in control is to refuse to do what others tell us to do. “They can’t control me” and “You’re not the boss of me” are the implicit messages of a child whose misbehavior is rooted in feeling powerless. Unfortunately, becoming angry and threatening or challenging this child will only intensify her defiance and the energy she invests in winning. The first step in responding to a child who feels powerless is to avoid the power struggle. When we step into the power struggle with this child, she has already won. Do not argue. Talk less and act more. Let the “reality of consequences” do the talking. No need to argue about picking up the toys. Calmly offer the choice, “You can pick up your toys now or after dinner. If they are still there tonight, I will put them in time out for the rest of the week.” No arguing, no debating, no lecturing—just a choice and a consequence. Parents can also limit power struggles by eliciting help from the child whenever possible.
4.      A child’s “call for love” may overflow from hurt feelings as well. When a child’s feelings are hurt, she may misbehave to hurts other people’s feelings, to get even in a sense. She may believe that she can’t be liked or loved, so she might as well let others hurt like she does. This child’s parents may think, “How could she do this to me?” They feel hurt, disappointed, or even disgusted by their child’s behavior. In this situation, a parent finds that dealing with the hurt feelings will often help change the misbehavior. Listen. Make amends for any hurt feelings. Express empathy. Show your child, through actions, how much you care. As you lean into the relationship with your child and accept her feelings, you will have the opportunity to explore solutions to her behavior.

5 Questions for Parents to Answer Before Discipline

When children misbehave, parents generally respond quickly with discipline. Family shepherds immediately and energetically discipline their children in order to stop the misbehavior and teach more appropriate behavior. That is all well and good. However, as family shepherds we also have to remember that what we say and do during a heated interaction (like discipline) burns into the heart and mind of our child. Like quick drying cement, our words and actions quickly harden into rigid patterns of thought and beliefs that impact our child’s self-image, mood, and character. So, we need to be careful how we speak to our children during the heat of discipline. When you discipline your child, ask yourself these questions to assure your words and actions strengthen your child’s character.
     1.      What specific behavior do I want my child to change? Family shepherds do not lecture their child. They don’t ramble or “pull in the kitchen sink” of misbehaviors past and present. If their child forgets to unload the dishwasher, they do not start into a 5 minute rampage about how their child never cleans his room, helps around the house, and appreciates the effort to care for them. If their child speaks rudely, they do not lecture on the disrespect of arriving late, rolling eyes, and not helping around the house. No, Family shepherds focus on the specific behavior they want to address at that time…one behavior at a time. When parents ramble or “pull in the kitchen sink,” children stop listening. They don’t hear the words anymore. They hear Charlie Brown’s teacher: “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.” When parents lecture, children stop looking at their own behavior and focus on their parents’ “incessant rambling.” They complain about the lecture and they argue. So, focus on the specific behavior you want your child to change. Keep anything you say short and to the point.
2.      What is the message of your child’s misbehavior? Children’s misbehavior often sends a message. They may misbehave to communicate a desire for attention or to express their own anger at a perceived mistreatment. Children may also misbehave to communicate a feeling of rejection or to counter a feeling of inadequacy. In order to respond effectively to a child’s misbehavior, family shepherds consider what their child is communicating, what he hopes to gain, through his misbehavior. Behavior that expresses a fear of rejection requires a different response than behavior that expresses anger or a desire for attention. Take a moment and think about why your child is misbehaving and respond with that in mind.
3.      Are there times your child has communicated the same thing with appropriate behavior? After you know what your child is communicating with their misbehavior, think about times they have behaved well. Recall times that your child has behaved in accordance with family values and rules. Perhaps you can recall times he has gained attention through kind deeds or expressed anger with words rather than fists. Taking time to recall these positive incidents helps us avoid phrases like “you always…” and “you never….” It helps us realize that this incident of misbehavior is not a permanent pattern or a major character flaw but a temporary behavior that he can change given proper instruction.
4.      What factors may have contributed to this misbehavior? Many factors contribute to children’s misbehavior: hunger, tiredness, changes in routine, feeling neglected, something that happened at school, a misunderstanding, feeling left out, etc. Sometimes misbehavior is simple immaturity, not a devious plot to make everyone’s life miserable. Think about what contributes to your child’s misbehavior. Family shepherds believe the best about their child’s intent. They adjust their discipline to match the factors that contribute to their child’s misbehavior. For instance, if their child misbehaves because he is tired, they may send him to lie down for a few minutes rather than take a privilege away. If their child misbehaves to gain attention, a time out and working to give them attention for positive behavior will prove more effective than a simple scolding.
5.      What behavior do I want my child to engage in to replace the negative behavior? Discipline involves teaching. Family shepherds teach their children appropriate behaviors to replace negative behaviors. If they want their child to stop speaking rudely, they teach him how to speak politely. If parents simply “punish” their child, he learns what not to do but does not learn what to do. He is left with a “behavioral void,” an empty space with no idea of what to do. If he has a “behavioral void,” he will fill it…most likely with inappropriate behavior. Family shepherds teach their child appropriate behavior to replace the negative behavior and fill any “behavioral void” they might have.