“Why do my kids seem to muck up all the time?”
“It feels like they are really trying to annoy me!”
When my clients say things like this, I always think of the cycle of misbehaviour.
Children are true experimenters. Everything is new to them and they spend every waking minute doing experiments to learn about reactions and consequences. They use the data they collect to decide what serves them, and what doesn’t.
If I climb lazily up this ladder and fall, it hurts. If I kick the seat in front of me, Dad pays me lots of attention. If I say please and cuddle Mum gently, she is more likely to say yes. If I scream really loud for a long time, I will get what I want. If I eat my dinner quietly, Dad will chat with me and I can learn stuff.
Hands up if you have sounded lie this at the end of a long day…
“Ben, I asked you not to do that. Don’t do it! Ouch, don’t hit me, that’s naughty! Benjamin! I said don’t do it! Come back here right this instant! Ben! BENJAMIN!”
And once you go and retrieve your little monster, you know its just going to be more of the same.
So how can we redirect misbehaviour?
Be aware that they are testing you for a reaction. Let your reaction be calm, measured and have the outcome you would like the next thirty times you are in that situation.
What we as parents and caregivers need to be SO clear on, is what we choose to respond with when our children misbehave. Sometimes just being aware that your child has had the thought process “I wonder what will happen if I…” is enough to keep us on track.
Often it takes a big deep breath, a quiet count to three (or fifty) and asking ourselves: Does it really matter?
One thing that is almost guaranteed not to work is getting frustrated and angry. Why? It teaches our children that they have reached the limit of consequences and your parenting skills. This creates a disrespect for authority figures. they believe that the most powerful people in their lives can’t make them behave, therefore, they must be REALLY BAD. Eventually they begin to feel hopeless. “Why should I even try when I’m so bad?”.