Do children misbehave, or do we misinterpret their behaviour.

Do children misbehave, or do we misinterpret their behaviour.

In today’s world teachers and mothers need to be leaders and not bosses. In Piaget’s words they must work for the goal of ‘autonomy’ (intelligent and ethical decision making) rather than obedience. 

There should be no such thing as ‘discipline’; it should be behavior management or modification. Discipline, is fixed, like in the army, but behavior can vary and with it varies the methods of handling misbehavior.  

Children in the first 6 years lack impulse control, they react without thinking.  Impulse control is developed with the growth in the pre frontal cortex, so the more the prefrontal cortex develops, the better will be the logic, reasoning, attention, focus in children. Play games to develop impulse control, simple games like ‘Simon says’, ‘Red light, Green light’, all develop impulse control. In Simon says, child has to concentrate and wait for the word ‘Simon’ to do the action, so he controls his impulse to do the action, until he hears the word.

After the age of 6 behavioral problems continue sometimes because kids lack self control. It is important to understand that-  

  • Children are able to focus only on one thing at a time. And so during a tantrum they are unable to see the other point of view. 
  • They are unable to figure out the impact of their actions on others in a logical way. 
  • Kids have a hard time working out how to get from one state of affairs to another. So it takes them time to work out their emotions.  

The best time to change children’s behavior is not during a tantrum, as the brain is in a shut down mode during a tantrum.  It is often when children are not in the heat of a tantrum that they are best able to think and learn about it.

It would be ideal to have an agreement of behaviour both at home and school- rule # 1 should be, ‘hitting and hurting is not allowed and so we will use words instead.’  Show kids a socially accepted avenue to show their anger and frustration; don’t stop them from experiencing these emotions.  Use sentences like,’ I know you are angry because I did not give you the toy, but instead of beating me, you can beat the pillow’. Don’t react to kid’s misbehavior with your own, if we are telling children, not to hit others when they are angry, then how can we hit them when we are angry?  

Any form of whacking or smacking is still child abuse. You may justify spanking by saying you love your child and want him to improve but you are only teaching the child that hitting is a form of showing love, and they will then grow up accepting violence and violent people. Domestic violence stems from such childhood experiences. Children who are smacked associate love and violence to be the same and so they turn violent or accept violence towards themselves.

What works is conflict resolution. Conflict resolution can be taught in the following steps-

  1. Seeking help– by calling for an adult or going to an adult and informing him that someone is troubling him. Here adults need to understand that this is not tattling and the child should not be blamed for coming for help as this is the first step of conflict resolution, when the child’s efforts at this step fails then he ‘fails’ to believe in any kind of resolution and will then resort to violence.
  2. Taking turns or sharing– an important social skill that is needed to survive with friends and siblings and children should be motivated and complimented for doing it.
  3. Using language instead of hands– teaches children to talk about their needs, their likes and dislikes. Teach them to communicate it to their friends and siblings. ‘Please don’t push my toys’, please don’t push me, you are hurting me’. Etc
  4. Teach children to walk away– a very important technique which can be very helpful when dealing with bullies, instead of standing and arguing or appealing to the bully, walk away from him.
  5. Discussing and planning with adults– telling the parents about a certain bully or how some of her friends tease her etc. then the parents can sit with the child and help her plan what to do and when. This helps the child understand that there is always a way out of the problem and also helps her self esteem and confidence as she is assured in the safe feeling that her parents are there for her.

For repeated instances of misbehaviour, it is important to see children who experience repeated serious conflict not as problem children but as children with problems who need guidance.

So try the following-  

  • Identify and specify instances of misbehavior 
  • Observe what happens before and after the behavior
  • Measure how often it happens
  • How long does it last
  • Find a pattern in the behavior
  • Bring about the Change and implement it. 
  • Continue measuring the behavior 
  • Every time the child exhibits the new behavior, Encourage new behavior. 

How we modify our kids behaviour when they are at their most vulnerable has a tremendous impact on their personality, coping skills and our dreams for them. When we believe in positive behaviour management it fosters emotional growth and logical thinking is nurtured. They learn about cause and effect, they learn to trust adults and respect and love themselves. 

Adults should remember that children do not misbehave we misinterpret their behaviour.

Dr. Swati Popat Vats
Parenting Mentor and Coach


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