Your 3 year old throws herself on the floor wailing at the top of her lungs, kicking and screaming.
Your 5 year old keeps poking you, tugging at your shirt whenever you are on the phone.
Your 7 year old puts his foot down, “I won’t! You can’t make me.”
Your 10-year-old shouts, “Not fair! I hate you! You are always on her side”, slams the door, refuses to open.
Your 5 year old gives up easily. He is reluctant to try anything new. “I can’t.” That’s his mantra.
Sounds familiar? Annoyed? Angry? Hurt? Feeling helpless about your child’s behaviour?
Next time your child misbehaves, pause before reacting. Ask yourself 3 questions:
Are my child’s physical needs taken care of?
Could she be hungry, tired, sleepy, too hot, too cold, wet? Be responsive to your child’s needs. This is especially true with small children who cannot yet express themselves in words.
Are my child’s developmental needs met?
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What may seem to you as misbehaviour could simply be age-appropriate behaviour. Young children (0-6-year-olds) are hard-wired to explore their surroundings using all five senses (touch, see, smell, hear, taste).
Your toddler keeps banging a spoon on the glass tabletop. “No, don’t do it”, you command. He looks up at you, stops for a moment and goes right back to playing “drums”. You think he is not listening to you; he is doing it on purpose. But the fact is that he is too young to understand “No” the way adults do. Also, his inner voice telling him to explore is much louder than your instructions. It may appear to you that he is defying you. But he is simply trying to fulfil his natural developmental need.
Get down to your knees and view your home through your child’s eyes. What seems interesting? Tablecloth to pull, switches to fiddle with, sliding doors to bang, colourful shiny artefacts to touch? If you hear yourself utter “No!” frequently, it is time to make your home more child-friendly. Instead of telling her what NOT to do, provide alternatives for sensorial play. Remove dangerous items. Let her move about freely.
Is my child’s basic human need for belonging and significance met?
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“A misbehaving child is a discouraged child.” discovered Rudolf Dreikurs. A child feels discouraged when she does not feel belonged or significant. For whatever reason, she may feel insecure, ignored, powerless, hurt or incapable. Without even realising it, she may form one of the following four mistaken beliefs about how to achieve a sense of belonging and significance:
- Undue attention: “I feel belonged and significant only when I get attention.
- Misguided Power: “I feel belonged and significant only when I am the boss.”
- Revenge: “I am hurt. I don’t belong, but at least I can hurt back.”
- Assumed Inadequacy: “It is impossible to belong. I give up.”
What can YOU do?
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Misbehaviour is just the tip of an iceberg. The beliefs driving the behaviour are hidden underneath the surface. Punishment or rewards may seem effective in stopping the undesired behaviour, but only temporarily. Dr. Jane Nelsen, the author of Positive Discipline advocates kind and firm parenting that is effective long term.
Role model. Your child’s misbehaviour is a cry for help. He does not yet know how to control his emotions. He is relying on you for guidance. Do not get pulled into power struggles or revenge cycles. Model behaviour you wish your child to emulate. Avoid labels: Lazy, grumpy, bossy, drama queen! Be respectful.
Connect, then correct: Apologise if your child feels angry or hurt because of you. You may not have hurt her intentionally. But, what matters is your child’s perception. Validate her feelings, but address the inappropriate behaviour. “It’s okay to be angry. But we don’t hit or call each other names in our home. Can you tell me what made you so angry?” Listen with empathy. Give her a hug. All resistance will melt away once she feels understood. If the child has lost confidence and hope, don’t give up on her. Show her a small step. Believe in her and help her succeed.
Focus on solutions: State the problem without blaming or shaming. Do not criticise, nag or lecture. Share your expectations. Choose a solution that would work for both of you. Give it a try for a week. Do not seek perfection. Build on improvements, however small.
Next time you feel your child is pushing your buttons don’t react instantly. Remember, misbehaviour is just the tip of an iceberg. It’s time to look beyond the symptoms. Take a deep breath. Compose yourself. Now, dive in. Find the mistaken belief hidden underneath. Reshape it with patience and love. And witness the magic at the top!
ALSO READ: 5 Steps to discipline, without hurting your child!