A Happier Way to Approach Misbehavior and Discipline
This lesson is available both in Audio and Written format.
Happier Way To Approach Misbehavior and Discipline
Humans like to make things automatic and easy. When it comes to parenting, wow do we like a promise, a quick hack that solves everything…. Like books that give you magic formulas, these sell like hot cakes!! Counting methods, sticker charts, automatic timers….if you tried these and they worked great, but if they haven't worked long term, i can probably tell you why.
This propensity for making things automatic, the human mindset that quick and easy can be good can actually get in the way of happiness.
Because we discount the fact that life is by default not a straight and easy path.
Parenting especially is a complicated tricky path full of challenges. It's by nature an emotional roller coaster and very unpredictable at times.
That's Not to say it can’t be full of happiness because it can. Especially if you are open to the reality that you will feel at times stressed or challenged in your role as a parent.
The thing about quick fixes for challenging behaviors is that they often rely on a control factor instead of a collaborative approach.
Humans like quick fixes, but they like collaboration even more.
Both the field of Neuroscience and Psychology have researched and looked at the hormones and activity in the body and the brain when people are being helpful or cooperating. What they found is that when people are cooperating with one another, the pleasure centers of the brain light up. Humans are truly hard-wired to be generous with others.
Several studies of the human brain have shown that the act of cooperating, of lending support to others, makes us happy.
Other studies show that when people have few choices or have a sense of being controlled they are more prone to either accepting their fate and being complacent, or becoming increasingly anxious or nervous. These are all unhappy states.
Being cooperative is actually direct way to increase happiness or that sense of well-being.
This is one main reason that positive parenting takes a collaborative approach to solving behavior challenges.
Let's Talk About Misbehavior
What's going on when your child misbehaves.
Kids misbehave for a variety of reasons, but not because they are bad or out to make you unhappy.
When your child misbehaves, they are lacking information, trying to get a need meet or feeling discouraged.
Misbehavior happens because of mistaken beliefs and poor impulse control.
Children don't misbehave to give you a hard time.
Behaviors like crying, not listening, hitting, fighting with a sibling, refusing to go to sleep, these are signals your child has unmet needs.
Needs for children go beyond physical needs of sleep and nutrition. Children need to feel safe, loved, cared for. Children also have needs like feeling accepted, capable and that they matter to you.
Instead of seeing misbehavior, it's helpful to see behavior as communication of your child’s unmet needs.
Jane Nelsen, author of the positive discipline series explains that children often behave in mistaken ways to get their needs met.
One tricky thing is that children don't have the capacity to simply tell you what they need. If they could parenting would be so much easier would't it?
The reality is that children have immature brains and often behave impulsively. So they usually can’t even tell you WHY they are behaving a certain way.
Instead, as the parent, it can be helpful to stay curious, and be inquisitive about your child’s behavior. Assume the best instead of the worst as you try to understand and help your child do better.
Every healthy child misbehaves. This is part of the growing and learning process.
Unhelpful and unnecessary behavior from young children should always be addressed. Especially if it is behavior that keeps repeating itself over and over again.
Just keep in mind that Traditional “disciplinary actions” for these bad, repetitive behaviors don’t usually work.
Quick Fixes = Unhappiness Traps
Warning, time outs, taking toys away do not invite helpful behaviors.
They do not highlight a child’s capabilities or address underlying needs or issues. These discipline tactics may be quick (meeting that desire for fast solutions) but they don’t teach or create collaboration between you and your child.
Can you think of a time when you have asked your child not to do something, more than once, maybe even ten times, and yet they still did that very thing anyways?
While children are very capable and intelligent, they don’t necessarily have the life experience, maturity and self control to make appropriate choices all the time.
(We know that even adults struggle with this at times , can you honestly say you always make the right choices?)
When needs go unmet, children tend to show us behaviors that are not helpful. Often they will repeat those behaviors simply because we haven’t been able to decode the need driving it all.
We can help our child want to and be able to choose a better behavior by slowing down for a moment and tuning into the child’s needs.
Notice instead what you can do to help your child feel and do better so you can start to make positive changes.
It's not about rewarding your child but aiming to understand and get both of you working together on the same page.
This kind of approach to discipline and managing behavior steps away from those quick fixes that seem so enticing.
This approach focuses on the long term well-being of the whole family and also puts more emphasis on cooperation and connection.
Both of these things, cooperation and connection are both vital for building and maintaining happiness and well-being.
Instead of quick tricks you will find in the next several lessons many ways of fostering more connection and cooperation with your child.
Misbehavior isn’t always what is seems and so it doesn’t always require “discipline” as much as it requires a parent willing to decode or understand what is going on underneath it all.
If a child is choosing to misbehave, it’s because they need guidance from someone that they can trust to find a better path.
Keep in mind that the collaborative approach is more likely to create change and increase happiness.
Download the Challenges and Strengths Worksheet
Reflect on the challenges you are having at home
Is expecting perfectly behaved Kids leading to unhappy thoughts or tension in your home?
Does this sound familiar?
"I would be so much happier if my kids would just listen to me!"
"We had a miserable time, the kids were misbehaving all weekend. Is peace and happiness too much to ask for?"
"I am so tired of all the demanding, sassy behavior. I thought parenting was going to be amazing, you know, happy moments, building memories. It's just so exhausting!"
The great news is that you can use moments of misbehavior to connect with your child and help them grow.
When you help your child feel better, they will start behaving better too.
Can you re-frame your child's behaviors as training grounds for helpful skills and characteristics?
Take a look at the Challenges and Strengths handout below to transform behavior challenges into learning opportunities.
The Positive Discipline Series of books and tools by Jane Nelsen D.Ed. is based on the work of Psychologists Rudolf Dreikurs and Alfred Adler. The principles of positive discipline and many of the parenting tools referenced throughout this course are based on the positive discipline series.