What if our children were beautifully behaved all the time? Just imagine that for a moment. Okay, now back to reality. Our children are going to misbehave at some point. Of course, they are. Misbehaving is our children's way of testing themselves, understanding limits, and experimenting with their own sense of agency and identity. It's also a way for them to test their relationship with us. And that's fine, we understand that.
But misbehavior can be difficult to deal with. It can come at the most inopportune times. It can push our buttons. It can derail a perfectly good morning or afternoon or evening.
So what can we do when our children misbehave? We have a few options:
1. Use it as a teaching moment—guide and coach them.
Acting out is almost always a teaching moment. If our children are behaving inappropriately, then we can guide them to behave in a more appropriate way. Sometimes the teaching can happen at the moment and other times, it happens once everyone has calmed down.
Your child might lose it at the shopping mall. But then you wait until you're home to talk through what happened and how they could have behaved differently. You guide and coach them rather than punishing them.
2. Ask a question that encourages a response.
We're very good at telling our kids what to do or what they're doing wrong. But sometimes, it's much more helpful to ask a question to get them thinking. Phrases like:
- "Would you like me to help you pack up or would you like to do it by yourself?"
- "Shall we go out in the morning or in the afternoon?"
- "What's next on your list to get ready this morning?"
3. Problem solve with your littles.
Instead of always fixing the problem or coming up with the solution, we can problem solve with our kids. Ask them what is going on or what they could do differently. If they can't come up with any solutions themselves, feel free to prompt them, give them ideas and then work with them to choose an approach to try. We can then give it a go and reflect on what worked or what else we might like to try.
4. Step back and see if they need help with something.
Sometimes our kids act out because they don't have the skills or capabilities to complete a task so they get frustrated or annoyed and behave poorly. In those instances, we can suggest a next step or show them how to do something. For example, show them how to tie the laces on their right foot and then encourage them to try on their left foot. You can get them to choose a piece of fruit for their lunch box while you make them a sandwich. Or, show them how to sweep the floor and then watch them try.
5. Acknowledge the emotions they’re feeling.
Children can behave negatively when they are overcome by emotion. They can't deal with their big emotions, so they misbehave. We can acknowledge how they are feeling:
- "I can see that you're frustrated. Perhaps we can try another way."
- "I know you're tired. I'm tired, too. But let's work together to get this done,"
- "I know you're really disappointed that we can't go to the playground this afternoon, but the weather is not good. Let's do some baking together and hopefully, the weather will be better tomorrow."
6. Remove them from the situation.
If it's a public place, sometimes the best thing to do is to remove yourself and your child from the situation. Not because you are trying to avoid the learning opportunity or to rescue your child. But because you both will benefit from being in a calmer environment.
In the middle of the shopping mall, there may be too much noise and activity so you leave your shopping for another day. You may want to stay talking to your friends over dinner but your child is overtired so it's time to go home. Your child has had enough time on the iPad so you put it away and go outside together to get some fresh air.
7. Acknowledge their emotions, then walk away.
Give both of you some space rather than try to fix, solve or teach right now. Allow everyone to calm down and then try again. You might understand how they are feeling than say, "I'll just be in the kitchen getting lunch ready." You might begin slowly walking towards the car after you've told them it is time to leave.
8. Keep your response brief and to the point.
We can get into yelling matches with our kids where they talk back and then we talk back and then they talk back, and the cycle continues. Instead, we can be the adult and not contribute to the argument. Try saying something like, "That's interesting" in a very even tone of voice. Or, "I know and I understand" but end it there. With few words and an even tone of voice, we can defuse the situation rather than making it worse.
9. Give them a hug.
When our children are overwhelmed, sometimes all they need is a hug from us. We can hold them and tell them that we understand. We can breathe with them and help them calm down. We can share a loving moment and give our children some of our love and receive some love from them. Acknowledge that they are learning and growing and so are we—connect and bond.
So what it does tell us? We have options! We don't have to react, yell, nag, threaten or punish our kids. We can work with them in a constructive and loving way to bring better behavior to more moments.