Parents & Children: Coping With Your Child's Misbehavior
Parents & Children
Coping With Your Child's Misbehavior
by Sheila O'Connor
"Look at this, Mommy!" says three-year-old Alice, waving her doll under her mother's nose.
"Not now, honey," replies June, on the phone to one of her clients. Not satisfied with this rebuttal, Alice starts pushing the buttons on the phone and June, apologizing to her client, squirms with embarrassment and frustration. This is the second time today Alice has acted like this.
Janice's five- and four-year olds constantly squabble over the television. "One wants to watch cartoons on video and the other wants to see whatever children's shows are on. I sort it out but I wish they'd behave better," she says.
Children's misbehavior can be wearing and stressful for parents. And although parents need to deal with the situation, there are some ways they should not deal with it. Spanking and lectures are two examples, says Ed Bliss, who runs seminars for parents.
"Spanking may clear the air, but it is not the solution to all problems and should only be used rarely, as in the case of a preschooler where the child is openly defiant. You might need it if the child acts as though he or she were the boss or is openly confrontational with the parent." In this exceptional case, the child needs to know that she can't get away with such behavior. Nonetheless, don't forget that the discipline should be carried out there and then and not be left to a later time or 'till daddy comes home'."
Lecturing a child doesn't help because the child simply "tunes out" and the parent just wastes her breath. A better solution is take action or show the child the consequence to his non-compliance.
"I got tired of nagging Matthew, my young son, to fasten his seatbelt. One day when we went through our usual routine of "will you fasten your belt"/"no I don't want to, I like it better without it," I simply pulled over to the side of the road and said I would drive off again only when his seatbelt was on. We sat there for fifteen minutes before he gave in and as a result he was late for his playgroup and most of the children had left on an outing to the park. We've never had the problem since. He knows I mean it when I say I won't move until it's on," says Martha, a research assistant.
But why do children misbehave in the first place and just how should parents react?
Bliss explains that there are usually two main motivations for misbehavior: attention seeking, power struggle, revenge and withdrawal.
Attention seeking is not only relevant to children. Everyone likes attention and adults get it using methods like how they dress or the way they interact. Children, however, don't have the same skills and can only seek attention by acting silly.
When their objective is met, i.e. you notice them, even if it's only to reprimand them, they've satisfied this need. Negative attention to the child is better than none at all, so she'll carry on with misbehavior or whining.
"The answer here is to withdraw attention. A child's behavior is purposeful," says Bliss, "The scolding you give him 20 times a day is what he wants. If you cannot ignore the behavior try the "bathroom technique", whereby you say to your child, "Excuse me I have to go to the bathroom now." Eventually your child will learn that his negative behavior doesn't get him the attention he wants, because you keep leaving the room."
Power struggling is the second motivation. Again everyone likes to have a sense of power over others but a child only gets this by refusing to carry out your wishes. She then feels she's accomplished something. The trouble is, this set up only leads to a win/lose situation and a parent should use negotiation instead. "Billy, if you finish your homework before dinner, you can watch half an hour of cartoons later." If you don't do this, power struggling can lead to the third motivation for misbehavior--that of revenge.
This may not manifest itself openly with very young children but the foundation is set in early childhood. A youngster who feels he or she has been unfairly treated will end up seeking revenge later in life.
This may take the form of open rebellion, drugs, and drinking or even stealing money from your purse. This will lead to the fourth motivation--withdrawal from you.
One important technique Bliss talks about when dealing with your child's good or bad behavior, is that of continual communication--not only verbally but physically too.
Even though your child might be "too old" for hugs, children actually need them no matter what their age. And they need them even more when they don't feel huggable or when they're sullen. They especially need them after they've been reprimanded.
To do this, talk about the naughty behavior (don't do it accusingly, you've already reprimanded the child). "Mommy doesn't like it when you throw your toys on the floor when you're angry," or use the "I statements." "I was unhappy when you started to push the buttons when I was talking on the telephone." Then go on to state what needs to be done. "When you see I'm on the phone, you should play quietly with your toys. If you want to show me something I will look at it when I'm finished".
Follow this with a pause, look your child in the eye and give him a hug. This conveys the message that there are no bad feelings between you and that your child is still a good person. It will do a lot to calm you down too!
Although it's unlikely your child will ever be an angel, with some understanding of why your child misbehaves, and what you can do about it, the problems will decrease and you and your child will become closer than ever.