Hanging out with little kids all day, it’s easy to get frustrated with challenging or difficult behavior. I speak from experience, having been a teen when my siblings were young, and now having an almost two and four-year-old of my own.
This past year has increased my stress level to epic proportions as both of them are working to assert their will. The Little Man, at 20 months, struggles with screaming for things instead of speaking. He is demonstrating even more forcefully that he NEVER EVER wants to have his diaper or his clothes changed. Just coming in from outside results in window shattering protests.
Our daughter, nearly four, is also tough. Very sharp and very challenging. The best way to describe her is that her emotional capabilities have not caught up to her mental capabilities. She wants to do what she wants to do now, and there will be a tantrum if things don’t go her way.
One way of thinking that has proven very helpful for me is remembering that my child is doing the best that he or she can. This does not come naturally for me. Most of the time, it feels like my kids are acting out on purpose, testing me, challenging me, and simply trying to get their way.
But that’s the key – they are doing all of those things. And those things are the best that they can do right now. It’s what they are supposed to be doing.
Consider an example: My daughter had a meltdown the other day because I wouldn’t let her color before getting dressed for school. I had already conceded to allowing her a glass of milk first, and she had agreed to get dressed afterwards.
When she asked to color, I told her “no” and reminded her that she had agreed to get dressed. Immediately, I could see her dig in. Tears of anger came to her eyes and her frustration escalated. I tried again to calmly remind her of our agreement, but I could not stop the train.
She started screaming and spewing “nasties” so I sent her to her room to work it out. As awful as it is, this is where she’s at. This is her skill level at this time. She has not developed the emotional control required to remain calm when she doesn’t get what she wants, or the patience and logic to see that she will get to color after she completes her obligations.
Even when a child behaves “badly,” they are doing the best that they can. That doesn’t make it right. That doesn’t mean that we should allow certain behaviors to continue. It means there are certain limitations still in play developmentally, and that additional time and coaching will correct them.
I’m telling you this because I have to remind myself ALL THE TIME. Without this perspective, I react with anger and frustration instead of understanding. This can create a negative cycle, because my kids then react to my anger instead of focus on the lesson that they must learn.
This perspective can be applied to adults as well. The way people choose to behave – good and bad – results from their upbringing and life experiences. I encounter grownups all the time whose actions make me stop and scratch my head. I have to remember that I’m viewing their behaviors through my own framework of how adults should act, as opposed to considering it from their point of view.
You might see people making poor decisions about how they spend their money or prioritize their time. You might notice people who act aggressively on the road or treat waitstaff in a restaurant rudely over something minor. You might encounter a boss who takes credit for your work, or a coworker who throws you under the bus in order to get ahead.
These examples demonstrate some true limitations in character, self-control, self-awareness, and work ethic. It’s where they’re at. It helps to remember that people are the product of their lives. And that is their problem, not yours.
This post was originally published on the author’s site, The Sanity Plan.