Misbehavior = Mis(taken)behavior

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.


5 thoughts on “Misbehavior = Mis(taken)behavior

  1. Love this post. It is very much true. The question is: How does the parent consistently keep their head about them when they are stressed/tired/feeling provoked and manipulated, etc.

    1. First, by knowing and owning the responsibility that your stress, tiredness, feeling provoked and manipulated is yours, not your child’s problem. Once we own our own stuff and stop blaming our child for it, then we can #1 take care of ourselves better and #2 ask the child for help with our problem – cooperation. But that’s hard to do when our buttons are pushed, we take the provoking personally and don’t see it as the only way the child can respond at this point in time. It’s a major shift in perception.

  2. I’m very concerned about my son who is in preschool. He’s infactuated with another boy in school and at times he will embrace this boy and not let go. He thinks it’s funny but the teachers are concerned that one of them will get hurt if they fall. My son says that he likes this boy and that is why he does it. Now the teachers use a picture of a traffic light and when he doesn’t listen and tackles this boy, he gets a red light or at times will go in a chair in a corner. Today I took one of his favorites toys away and told him that he needs to listen to his teachers and not tackle his friend. All along I’ve been talking with him and tried role playing as well as see a child counselor. I feel there’s an underlying reason why he’s doing this. I can tell he has anxiety in school because he chews his sleeve. The friend he has is very shy and that’s why he’s comfortable with him. His friend’s mom is not concerned and thinks it’s just a phase. We’ve had playdates at our house which goes very well. I’m slightly annoyed that the school doesn’t see what I see. Tomorrow I will observe and then tell them to help him connect with other boys. I hope that’s the answer. My other thought is to let it go and not punish him in school or at home. Anyone ever encounter this issue?

    1. Lori – This is not an issue to be very concerned about with a preschooler. This is his way of connecting with a child he wants to be with. He doesn’t know any better yet—nor should he. Development will take care of it unless there are other issues going on I don’t get from your comment. DO NOT punish him for this. It would be like telling him that he is bad for being shy. You will only increase stress. Punishment is NEVER okay and never teaches what we want to teach. You can talk with him but he is still very impulsive and will be for quite sometime. Especially if the other boy’s mother doesn’t care, you should not either.

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