“What is wrong with you?! I just can’t believe what I put up with from you! You’re really a bad kid.”Phrases like this one can be an all-too-common reaction from parents.
Dealing over and over again with children’s misbehavior can certainly push parents to the edge.
Tempers flare, and angry words fly. Incessant back talk, picking on siblings, acting up in class, and a
near endless list of behavioral challenges create frustration for everyone.
However, shaming children with phrases such as these or with other demeaning treatment doesn’t
actually help teach them appropriate lessons. In fact, shaming a child can provoke a lifelong cycle of
poor self-esteem, self-doubt, and insecurity that will hurt them in other ways.
What, then, is a better way of dealing with misbehavior? Here are five sensible steps to teaching
1. Model the Behavior You Want to See
As hard as it can be, adults need to model positive, effective ways of interacting during times of
stress and anger. Children really do live what they learn.
If parents yell at each other, quickly lose their temper, or ridicule strangers frequently, children will
absorb and learn this behavior themselves. If children see parents apologize to each other after
being unkind, they learn a healthy lesson. This includes apologizing to children if a parent has lost
their temper, overreacted, etc.
Stepping back to evaluate your own behavior as a role model is an important part of providing good
2. Remember a Child’s Developmental Stage
It’s vital to be educated about the developmental stages of children. What may seem like
misbehavior is often not intended as such. Rather, it’s a normal part of your child’s growth process.
If you keep this in mind, you can learn to respond appropriately to your child’s negative behavior.
If a particular misbehavior happens frequently, observe what else is going on immediately before it
happens. Perhaps something else that isn’t obvious is triggering or distressing your child.
Likewise, consider what happens after the behavior. Perhaps your child behaving a certain way to
get attention or to get out of doing something else.
4. Focus on the Behavior
Shame researchers often point out that it is important to focus on the inappropriate behavior, not on
the child’s intrinsic qualities. For example, a parent could say, “Hitting your sister was a bad
decision,” instead of, “You are a very naughty kid for treating your sister this way.”
The goal is to help the child learn that their behavior was wrong, not that there is something wrong
with them as an individual. Being able to understand the difference will also set the tone for helping
them change their behavior.
5. Keep Your Cool
Learning to remain calm and in control when children are doing their level best (whether on purpose
or not) may seem impossible. But this concept goes beyond just modeling good behavior. It shows
them that you are stable and able to control yourself even when they are not.
Staying calm, then, creates a sense of emotional safety for your child. It also provides a healthy
boundary by teaching them that they are not able to manipulate parents by misbehaving.
Along with this, it is ok to demonstrate empathy when your child has misbehaved. If their feelings
were hurt when a friend took their ball or they were angry that they missed a turn, it is healthy to
acknowledge that. By doing so, you show your child that they are worthy of respect.
Plus, you can also help them identify the emotions they felt when something happened. And then,
calmly walk your child through more constructive ways of behaving. For example, you might ask
them what they learned and what they could do differently next time.
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