Misbehavior! What do you make it mean about you and your parenting?Jul 19, 2021
When your child “misbehaves”... what do you make it mean about you? As parents, we all take pride when other people tell us that our children are great kids… and that they are so well behaved. It makes us feel good, and we tend to make that mean that we’ve done a good job as a parent.
But what about when they “misbehave”? If you are out in public with an unruly child, do you worry about what other people might think? Do you see your child’s behavior as a reflection of your parenting skills? Most parents do.
When your children do something that you view as inappropriate or wrong, do you feel that as good parents you need to “correct” the behavior? As parents we typically judge their behavior, determine that they are misbehaving, and then we might discipline them with negative consequences in an effort to get them to stop misbehaving.
As the parent, you get to decide the moral compass that you want to instill in your children and what behavior is appropriate or inappropriate. However, I want to make the case that what you THINK about your children’s behavior will affect both how you stay connected with them as well as how they accept what you are attempting to teach them in an effort to correct their behavior.
I invite you to evaluate what your expectations are for their behavior. I find that most parents, (myself included:), typically expect that our children will behave in accordance with adult programming. But if you evaluate their behavior based on their age, they are typically right on track, and exhibiting age appropriate behavior. Can you observe their behavior and consider that they are acting exactly as they should for their age?
Typically, when kids act out, parents react. Our first instinct is to get them to stop the behavior as soon as possible, especially if we are out in public! Unfortunately, when we are reactive, our kids end up reacting too. The situation escalates and we lose the opportunity to turn the situation into a teachable moment.
I remember taking my kids to church when they were little, and trying to have as many tricks up my sleeve (snacks, coloring books, and any small quiet toys) to keep them entertained should something go wrong. I had the expectation that my child should be quiet, still, and respectful in church. But then came the day that none of my tricks worked. My 3-year-old did not want to sit anymore. In my mind, he was “misbehaving”. I’m sure that I had thoughts of what other people would think of me as a parent since my son was being so disruptive in church.
When we have the thought that the behavior is wrong and we need to correct it, we are coming from a place of judgment and shame towards our kids. We think if they are ashamed of their behavior they will stop. And, if we make our children’s behavior an indicator of our parenting skills… we may decide that their misbehavior means that we are a bad parent, and we feel ashamed of ourselves too.
Not only does shame feel awful, for us and for our children, but research also shows that shame doesn’t help us change or learn new behaviors. Instead, shame shuts down the centers of the brain responsible for learning and growth.
In my case, had I evaluated my son’s behavior through the age-appropriate lens, I would have seen the situation very differently. He wasn’t “misbehaving”, he was acting exactly as he should for a 3-year-old. Ideally, this thought would not have led to a path where I was ashamed and parenting from judgment and shame.
The alternative is a bit counterintuitive. It’s the idea that nothing has gone wrong, and that your child’s behavior does not have to mean anything about your skills as a parent.
I invite you to consider these thoughts:
- My child’s behavior is age-appropriate. It’s understandable why they are acting this way.
- Nothing has gone wrong.
- My child’s behavior does not have to mean anything about my skills as a parent.
The idea is that when you think nothing has gone wrong and your child’s behavior is age-appropriate, you remain calm, cool, and collected and parent much more effectively from this state.
Please note, this does NOT mean that you excuse the behavior. It just allows you as the parent to remain in a non-reactive state where you are able to evaluate how to best handle the situation, stay connected to your child, and are mentally in a position to help teach and guide them. And your child will likely be much more receptive if they are not feeling judged or ashamed.
Now in my situation at church, thankfully the minister was older and wiser… she literally stopped what she was doing and said it’s okay, let him go. He’s just curious. He wandered right up to the altar and stood very quietly for the rest of the service just watching. Everyone commented afterward how wonderful it was to see him watching in wonder, and what a good little boy he was. What a change in perspective and a valuable lesson for me.
I invite you to consider your expectations for your children and evaluate them through the age-appropriate lens. If you are concerned that your 8-year-old is completely self-centered and never considers how their actions affect anyone else, consider that empathy is actually a skill that can be learned and you can help foster. If you get frustrated when your teen blames everyone else for their problems and never seems to take any responsibility, consider that it’s completely age appropriate and that’s what most teens do.
This is one area where a Parent Coach can really help! We can help you identify age appropriate behavior, and help you parent in a calm, cool and collected manner so you are able to stay connected to your kids and guide them in order to foster confidence and resilience in them.
If you don’t already have a Parent Coach, I would be honored to be yours… you can schedule a free call with me at melpeirce.com/consult to find out how Parent Coaching can help and support you. Kids don’t come with Parenting Manuals and we can all use some help and support at times!
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