Five Things To Remember
When Your Kid Behaves Badly
You’re waiting in line to check out with your one item. It’s a quick errand that you decided to squeeze in right before lunch. The mom in front of you has her toddler with her and she’s mid-tantrum and purposely knocking items off of the register display onto the floor. The toddler is inconsolable and irrational. The mom is frazzled. She can’t find the receipt for her return in her giant mom bag. Her daughter doesn’t care. The mom stops rummaging in her purse for the receipt and tries to distract her with something shiny. No luck. The toddler begins screaming…pushing up against her moms’ legs and generally making everyone uncomfortable.
You watch the whole situation unfold from two feet away. You can SEE how the mom is doing the best that she can. You can SEE that the toddler is acting out and treating her mom, the one safe person in the building, with contempt and disrespect. You can SEE that she’s probably hungry or tired. She’s only three and it’s easy to remember that her brain hasn’t made all of those super important connections in her frontal lobe to cause her to realize that her behavior isn’t socially appropriate. From where you’re standing, the whole situation, while unfortunate, makes a lot of sense.
Now insert yourself as the mom with the screaming toddler. All of those things that you could SEE as the bystander are fuzzy and unclear. Your heart rate jumps up 20 beats per minute and you suddenly feel like the entire world is waiting on you to be able to continue to spin. You suddenly feel ashamed and embarrassed…as if it’s all your fault. From where you’re standing now, the whole situation makes no sense at all.
Mamas, we’ve all been there. Yes?
I spent the first few years of my motherhood a frazzled mess anytime my children misbehaved. I’d feel all the yucky feelings…annoyance, shame and guilt, frustration and anger, and embarrassment. “Why can’t they just behave?!” I’d desperately wonder. I even retreated a bit into isolation, closing myself off from a seemingly judgmental and unforgiving outside world because that felt easier than risking these painful interactions.
My friends, I was so wrong.
Unlike any generation before, we have no shortage of knowledge, research and opinions available to us when it comes to raising our children. Opinions on sleep training. Opinions on pacifiers. Opinions on disciplinary methods. Opinions on screen time. Opinions on opinions.
All kinds of opinions from the outside world coming in and telling us that we need to do this job perfectly.
So in parenting, when something goes wrong, we jump to the research. We consult the all-knowing internet. We read books to try to figure out just where we got it wrong and how to fix it immediately. Maybe you’ve stumbled here because you’re stressed about your child’s bad behavior and are unsure about how to handle it.
I sought out all the opinions on fixing the behavior of my children. But there were a few things that NOBODY was saying about dealing with bad behavior. I’m here to say FIVE of them.
Bad behavior is NORMAL. It’s inevitable that every single child will have moments of rebellion and disobedience during the first 18 years of their lives…oh and beyond. Normalcy does NOT equal acceptability, but it’s important to remember that our kids will naturally act out. Every kid is different, so some will be super creative and do it in ways that will shock and surprise us. What we shouldn’t be surprised by is the fact that they’re rebelling in some way, shape or form.
Bad behavior is a result of something DEEPER. You mama, are the one person with the most insight into the mind and heart of your child. You know how they tick. You know if they’re hungry or tired. You know that your daughter is less emotionally developed or that your son has a speech delay that could be causing frustration. You know if they slept poorly last night (because you probably did too). You know about that friendship at school that’s been strained for the past month. You have more information than anyone to help them work it out.
I found that I was always taking it personal when my kids acted up. Don’t take it personal! It’s not about you 99% of the time. You’re just the easy target because you’re their mom. You’re their safe place. The one who will love them no matter what.
Bad behavior does not always equal bad parenting. Remember before you had kids and anytime you saw a badly behaved child, you assumed it was the result of poor parenting? Surely I wasn’t the only naive one who made those incorrect judgments. We could parent perfectly and our children might still grow up and choose a path of foolishness. Just find an empty-nester or two and you can confirm. This job we’re doing makes no guarantees. So just because your child is losing his mind in the checkout line doesn’t always mean that you’re to blame.
We are their COACHES. Our kids need to be taught EVERYTHING. From how to brush their teeth to how to fold and put away their clothes, how to drive a car and how to fill out a college application. So far, I’ve found kids to be mostly incapable of figuring things out on their own without at least some instruction or pointing in the right direction. They also seem to need the EXACT SAME STATEMENTS repeated ad nauseum at times. We cannot expect them to know all the things. We are their coaches. Their role models. Their cheerleaders. It is our responsibility to teach them, not to sit back and assume they’ll figure it out themselves. If we don’t, someone else will and it may not be someone that you’d choose.
My very favorite phrase to use with my kids when they misstep is “Try Again”. It’s simple and direct and it gives them another chance to figure it out themselves. It shows them that I believe in them. It shows them that I’m on their team, hoping for them to make the right choice. It shows them grace without tolerance of misbehavior. You may not continue this behavior…try again.
Whining… “Try again”
Throwing toys… “Try again”
Hitting a sibling… “Try again”
Losing temper… “Try again”
Running away in a parking lot… “Try again”
And then, of course, there are times that they don’t want to try again…
EMOTIONLESS Consequences. Consequences should be matter-of-fact, planned out and calmly executed. 1+1=2…always. It’s not an emotional thing. “You did this…so here’s the consequence. Done.” Take the emotion out.
We should always believe the best about our children while also having the foresight to expect them to misstep. Expect obedience but also plan ahead for those times of disobedience so that you’re not caught off-guard. Plan your consequences ahead of time for disobedience and ALWAYS follow through. Foresight keeps your emotions at bay.
So what now?
So maybe none of this is new information for you. But it’s certainly a lot easier on paper then it is to execute in real life, yes? I’m a big fan of repeating truth over and over though. It helps it to stick and influence our thinking…and it proves my point about needing to hear things more than once before they sink in, even as adults. As I remind myself of these five things more and more, I find that I can parent more objectively and effectively in the tough moments. The moments that threaten my blood pressure to rise and my feelings to bruise.
So mama, when your sweet child who you love more than the air in your own lungs is acting out in the most ridiculously inappropriate ways that you could never have dreamed up yourself…lean in.
Lean in and let her know that you’re not going anywhere.
Remember that she is not the sum of her behavior. Remember that something else is going on underneath the surface. Remember that you are not to blame. Remember your role as her coach, her cheerleader and her safe place.