Your child’s behavior is only the tip of the iceberg. Don’t take it literally. It has emotional triggers hidden beneath the surface. This is where your attention is to be directed. When we see only the behavior and decide it is either good or bad and should be either rewarded or punished, we are missing the boat—actually the boat will hit the huge section of iceberg beneath the water’s surface and sink. Our parenting culture is programed to look only at behavior and try to change it to suit us. This is manipulative and teaches children to be manipulative.
All behavior is perfect. It reflects and tells us how our children are doing. We should be grateful for it. If behavior is age and temperament-appropriate, even if it’s annoying, it tells us our child is fine. If it is inappropriate, out of control, violent, etc. it tells us our child is having a problem. So when we see the behavior as “misbehavior”, we see it as bad and therefore have to change it, typically by using punishment. But we have actually misunderstood the nature of the behavior. We have mistaken it for something intentional. It is neither good nor bad but it does tell us if our child is needing help, is dealing with internal problems, unmet needs, upsets that provoke the behavior. If we “miss the boat” and see only the behavior, it gets worse and more dramatic in an effort to finally be heard.
Have you ever said or done something you wish you hadn’t and wonder why? You really didn’t mean it, but it just came out? Of course you have. If you look closely you will see why you behaved that way. Perhaps you were embarrassed, or felt provoked or blamed, or were overtired and worn down. There is always a reason, a provocation, for “misbehavior” that lies beneath the surface. So if we do it, how come we take literally everything our children say and do and make them pay if we don’t like it?Is that how we’d like to be treated when we make a mistake?
Our parenting myth tells us never to give positive attention to negative behavior. But what our children need is positive, compassionate attention to the internal emotional state that holds the obstacles and problems that provoke unsuccessful behavior. Leave the behavior alone temporarily and connect with the emotional state. Go for the feelings. Once you have connected on an emotional level and your child trusts that you understand, then you can go back to the behavior and problem solve a different way of behaving. No blame, no criticism, but real accountability.