Parenting is a Journey
An Adventure of Discovery Not Only of our Children But of Ourselves as Well
By Susan Solomon Yem
My oldest son was an adolescent when my mother died. Although he was quiet at the funeral, he was impossible in the car ride to the cemetery. No amount of correction either his father or I attempted, worked. We finally decided keeping our distance for the remainder of the day was the only option.
It did not occur to me until much later, that my son’s behavior was not naughty; it was his reaction to the loss of his grandmother. From that experience I realized that a child’s bad behavior might not be naughtiness; it may just be a response to a circumstance.
Mountain View based family coach, Susan Stone Belton (www.susanstonebelton.com), says, “Naughty behavior is a request for parents to pay attention. Kids usually misbehave when they are hungry, tired, frustrated or need attention.”
Susan explains that sometimes children just do not have the energy or the words to communicate. “Misbehaving earns our attention and the child gets what he needs.”
Chantal Dubuisson-Myllymaki, a Parent Education Instructor at Family Paths (www.familypaths.org) in Oakland, encourages parents to identify a child’s positive actions more than the negative. “If parents are spending the majority of their time focusing on the negative behaviors, they might be overlooking the efforts children are making to behave.”
She adds that it is a child’s job to fit into the family — to feel significant and loved. “If a child is made to feel unimportant, insignificant, and unloved they might fall into negative behavior to establish a role in the family.”
To help parents determine if their child is entering a negative cycle of behavior, Family Paths uses a tool called the Mistaken Goals of Misbehavior. “This helps parents and caregivers to notice how they feel when children mistakenly display negative ways of gaining attention and seeking power.”
Identifying their own emotions helps parents not only understand what their children are feeling, but find ways to deal with the behavior.
Limits and Rules
Susan’s book, Real Parents, Real Kids, Real Talk (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2011) teaches parents how to build healthy, loving relationships with their children. One of her recommendations is that parents set limits and create rules; “kids like knowing what is okay and what is expected. I encourage parents to set a rule, determine the consequence and follow through.”
An immediate response to bad behavior teaches the child that Mom and Dad mean what they say. “The hope is that this kind of follow through will result in the child making better choices the next time,” says Susan. “Behavior management is all about teaching our kids to stop, think, and make the right choice.”
Chantal offers, “giving a child an acceptable alternative is productive. Let them know what to do, rather than what not to do,”
What Is He Really Saying?
When my youngest son was two, he had a monumental temper tantrum in the car because I would not buy him a toy at the mall. It took a lot of willpower on my part, but I kept quiet. Because I was not reacting to him, he ran through a litany of reasons why his was the saddest life, including, “You don’t love me. No one likes me. I hate myself.”
I was fascinated by this toddler’s attempt at manipulation. My lack of response finally dissipated his fervor and he settled down. He never attempted that type of tantrum again.
“Actions are usually indicators of something else in the child’s life that could be tilting his or her sense of balance and feelings of being grounded,” says Chantal.
“Often the child who is behaving the worst is the one who needs support, comfort, and understanding the most.”
It’s the Behavior, not the Child
It is important to not label a child naughty as Susan counsels; “Children might act in a naughty way, but the child is not naughty. When we label a child, that label can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Children are good. Their behavior might be bad.”Chantal advises, “pay compliments to your children often when they are well behaved. “
She also suggests that parents be positive role models. “Be courteous and gracious to your children and they will turn out to be like you.”