Contributed by Jody McVittie, MD
Misbehavior isn’t random. You already know that. Kids often misbehave at very inconvenient times! It happens particularly when we, the parent figures, are in a hurry. It is a consistent (and predictable) pattern. Are they out to “get” you? Well, yes and no. They are not out to “get” you in the sense that you will be bothered, annoyed, trapped or otherwise challenged. They are out to “get” you in the sense that they are seeking a connection with you.
Human beings seek out a sense of belonging and significance. We do this particularly when we perceive instability in our world. If we examine the world through the eyes of our children for a moment we can see how the “mis-behavior” makes sense. Pretend you are a child.
Scene 1. A typical morning before school. It was hard to wake up and you were a little late for breakfast. People are bustling around the kitchen and there are lots of verbal reminders flying around the room. It is a little tense because there isn’t much time before the adults need to go to work and you need to catch the school bus. You feel a bit off. You haven’t found your ground yet and it feels like you are being rushed around. You don’t know what you are missing – but you feel less and less like moving. Everything you do is in (very) slow motion. The adults are getting louder.
Scene 2. Same morning. The difference is that Dad got up early enough that he is sitting, waiting at the table for you. Before you sit down he says, “Hey, how about a big hug before you start your breakfast. Nothing like a good bit of vitamin H to start the day.” That hug reminds you that you are safe and loved and wanted. You hear a voice say, “It was hard to get out of bed today wasn’t it? What do you think you need to do to catch up to be ready for the bus?” Yep, you can pick it up a little.
When we are busy being busy being busy our children, out of awareness get the sense that they are along for the ride; that they don’t really matter. It makes it hard to feel connected or valued. It is like being a piece of roll-along luggage instead of a human being. That sense invites behavior that makes adults stop and connect. Any connection is better than no connection. What is the solution?
• Set aside time for connection before big transitions. That may mean getting up a few minutes earlier, planning a tiny bit more or just stopping for a moment, getting down to your child’s level and listening before moving… or… just s l o w i n g down.
• When you sense the brakes, stop. Connect. Most parents can sense when their children are beginning to put on the brakes – before there is misbehavior. That is the time to stop and connect. “You wish we didn’t have to rush this morning.” “You don’t feel like getting back in the car.” Offer a hug and invite the child to help (feel more important). “Could you help me carry this bag out?” “You can help me decide which store we’ll go to first.”
• Recognize you are human and that it won’t be perfect every time.
• Take care of yourself. Know that when we are stressed our children get stressed too. They’ll need extra connection. When planning for holidays or any big event, misbehavior may escalate because we can forget to listen and connect with our children in the usual ways.
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