Misbehavior & Disrespectful Kids

Jan 15, 2024

When your child “misbehaves”, do you think they’re being disrespectful?  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”?  

I was coaching the Mom of a 3-year-old who was struggling to get her daughter to listen.  When I asked the Mom what she thought about her daughter not listening, she told me she thought it meant that her daughter didn’t respect her.

This is a very common theme for many parents.  They think if their kids listen and do as they’re told that means that they respect their parents, and if they’re misbehaving they don’t.

Unfortunately, when we think our kids are being disrespectful we are likely to get frustrated, angry, or sad — which makes it really difficult to parent effectively in those moments.  

I encourage you to consider that what you THINK about your children’s behavior will affect your ability to stay calm, your ability to respond instead of react, and your ability to effectively deal with any challenging behavior from your kids.

I recommend that you start by evaluating your expectations 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, and not interpret their behavior as being disrespectful?

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 expected 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 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. Your child’s behavior does not have to mean they disrespect you and it does not have to mean anything about your skills as a parent — because 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 that 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 can evaluate how to best handle the situation, stay connected to your child, and be 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 that your child is not being disrespectful and evaluate their behavior through an age-appropriate lens.  

If you want to add more tools to your parenting toolbox to better handle challenging behavior, join us on January 25th for my newest live workshop - How To Parent Through Behavior Challenges.  We will discuss the brain / behavior connection, common mistakes many parents make and how to avoid them, and I’ll be sharing research backed proven tools so you know exactly what to do next time your child misbehaves.  Click here for more information and register to update your parenting toolbox for 2024.

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