Why do we think our child is misbehaving? & Why do we feel the need to punish them when they misbehave? Asking ourselves these two questions can change everything.
Disciplining our children is a challenge every parent faces. We consider the methods our parents used when we were growing up as well as looking to parenting experts to find out how best to help our children behave and turn into good human beings. But somehow, we seem to be missing the mark.
The Connection Between Behaviour & Emotions
When our children misbehave we need to look deeper than just the behavior they are exhibiting to find out what is really going on inside. Misbehaviour is a cry for help. Something is not right. The misbehaviour could have a physical cause – hunger, tiredness, unwell, etc, or an emotional cause – sadness, fear, anxiety, etc. If we don’t react to the misbehaviour until we have discovered the emotion or unmet need involved, most probably we will react differently.
When we dig deeper and realize that our child’s misbehaviour may be a result of unmet emotional needs, it opens the door to a more empathetic response. For instance, what if our child’s outbursts were due to being bullied at school, or their conflicts with siblings stemmed from anxiety about a family member’s illness? By tapping into this information, could our reactions be more supportive and understanding?
Traditionally, parents have felt obligated to punish their children for misbehaviour, believing it would deter them from repeating the same mistakes. However, from an adult perspective, think about the last time your boss reprimanded you at work. Did it inspire cooperation and increased effort? Likely not. Similarly, punishing our children may not foster connection or a desire to improve.
When our children are upset or angry, our first goal should be to create a safe environment and help them articulate their feelings, rather than resorting to punishment. When children feel heard and validated, they are less likely to use negative behaviours as outlets for their emotions. Their feelings need acknowledgment and support for expression.
What if, instead of punishment, we used misbehaviour to guide our children toward making better choices in the future?
What can a parent do after an explosion?
After an emotional outburst, it’s essential to give your son time to regain control of his emotions before engaging in meaningful dialogue (Timed Silence). He needs to feel that you understand his emotional pain. It doesn’t mean you are condoning his misbehaviour. You are simply validating his emotions. This understanding sets the stage for a conversation about the conflict that occurred.
First, you want to understand what (not why) happened, from his perspective.
Listen to his explanation, reflect, and rephrase for clarity. Gather facts. Go back and forth until it feels like you have created a movie of the event where you both have the same understanding of what happened.
Once you have the full picture, your child, with your guidance, can brainstorm alternative behaviours for similar situations that may happen in the future. Encourage him to generate several ideas, at least 5 or 6 ,and then choose the best option.
Next, help him create a plan from that option for future success and outline the necessary steps.
Lastly, discuss the possibility that, despite a great plan, in the heat of the moment, he might lose control and forget his plan. Have him brainstorm potential consequences for accountability and select the most suitable one.
This strategy eliminates the need for punitive measures. Instead, your child learns valuable life skills such as conflict resolution, emotional regulation, and personal accountability. As a parent, your role is one of support and guidance, nurturing their growth and development. Your connection to your child remains deep and strong.