What do you believe about your children’s behavior? When they misbehave, what assumptions do you make? When they behave well, what do you think? Many parents don’t take the time to answer these questions. However, the answers you give impact your children’s behavior, your children’s belief about themselves, and your response to your children’s behavior. Consider these examples.
- If you see your children’s misbehavior as rebellion, you will respond swiftly and harshly to squelch the rebellion. You might assert your adult power to “put down the rebellion” and show your children who is in control. Your children will grow to see themselves as powerless. They will feel intruded upon and imprisoned by your assertion of power. They will want to break free and push against your authority even more. They will want to assert their power, but the only way to do so is through rebellion. Ultimately, they will grow more rebellious in their attempt to assert their own independence, autonomy, and power. And so the cycle grows.
- If you assume your children’s behavior is a result of laziness, you may push them to do more. You will attempt many ways to motivate them, maybe even call them lazy in the process. They may accept that label and begin to consider themselves lazy. Unfortunately, a lazy person can’t change; it takes too much work and they are too lazy to do the work. As they struggle to feel motivated to do what is asked, they may also begin to feel bad, like something is wrong with them. With no other choice, they live up to (or should I say “down to”) the label of lazy.
- If you believe your children act out of sneaky defiance, you will have to constantly be on your toes. You can stalk their Facebook and Instagram. You will look at them with accusing eyes when they arrive home late, assuming that they are lying about the reasons for their tardiness. Your suspicions will grow in their mind, making them believe they are not trustworthy. “If my parents don’t trust me, who will?” Your children will then begin to see themselves as sneaky and defiant. They will begin to act sneaky and defiant…“What else can I do? It’s who I am. Just ask my parents.”
These beliefs might be true sometimes. I doubt if any child is always rebellious, always lazy, or always sneaky and defiant. When these beliefs become the primary way in which we see our children’s misbehavior they create a vicious, downward spiral of negative interactions and negative behaviors.
It doesn’t have to be this way. You could become curious about your children’s behavior. You will still need to discipline. You will still give consequences, but those consequences will change and become more effective. Think about the process. You observe your children misbehave. You become curious about that misbehavior. Are they rebelling? Being lazy? Acting in defiance? Or something else? After all, the answer to these questions will definitely change my parental response. There is only one way to know the answers, ask. So you begin to engage your children. You start a dialogue about the behavior you just witnessed. You simply begin to explore what might have motivated their behavior. What was their intent? What was going on in their thought life as they considered the behavior? What feelings did they have? Was there anything that triggered the behavior? Was there anything bothering them or exciting them? Suddenly you find yourself having an interesting dialogue about behaviors, limits, and your children. You are learning about their fears as well as their hopes and dreams. Not only that, you are training them to develop an awareness of their rich inner life of thought, intent, emotion, and motivation. You are teaching them to think before they act. You are teaching them to consider the consequences of an action in relation to the goal they want to achieve. Isn’t that the greater goal of correcting misbehavior? Then your consequence will merely reinforce the lessons learned in relationship with you.
Give up the assumptions and get curious. Start a dialogue with your children. Discover what makes them tick. Teach them how to think before they act by thinking with them.