Children Misbehave, We React How?

When a child misbehaves, breaks something, or hurts someone either accidentally or on purpose, in anger, what’s the Empatharian peace-building strategy of choice?

We have choices with our response, and because we are adults we can look ahead to the results of different choices for responding.

If we punish the child with a spanking or hits, we can imagine that the child will be discouraged from doing this behavior again, perhaps. But more likely, he is learning that he must be more sneaky about misbehaving, making sure you don’t find outnext time.

Perhaps instead of beating the child, we respond with yelling and screaming, losing our temper as well. Chances are this would result in the child being scared even more, but he also has gotten your goat, and your focussed attention. This could positively reinforce a child who feels a bit neglected. Particularly if you lose it so badly that you’re apologizing afterwards to the child and reassuring him of your love.

This is a cycle of violence, where you are violent, regret it, and want to make it up to the child, who then has learned that offending might be scary, but it’s got a payoff at the end, so re-offends. This isn’t necessarily conscious manipulation, it’s just a learned patterned response. Like your hitting or yelling at the child, because that’s what your parents did, a generational pattern. We humans are programmed to respond according to patterns.

And so your child is also getting that pattern of hitting/yelling/violence from you, for his responses in the future, either with his peers, schoolmates, siblings, or much later, his own children. That’s a big negative impact for your family for generations, ugh!

Another choice we could make in responding to our child’s misbehaviour is ignoring it. If your child is misbehaving to get your attention, to get something from you, or to manipulate in some way, ignoring is a viable way, because eventually the child will stop what he’s doing, notice he didn’t get what he wanted from the behavior, and will be less likely to do it again.

However, if your child doesn’t ever get that positive attention from you, if he crys and nobody seems to care, he learns that his needs and wants don’t matter. He learns that he doesn’t matter. Yes, the crying will stop, and stop completely eventually, but the child’s heart is broken. This is a terrible, and the lifelong depression that results can be very hard to cure. So, if you’re going to use ignoring, make sure that you give lots and lots of positive focussed attention and love when the child isn’t misbehaving, even exagerating the smallest positive behaviors with praise.

A third choice for responding to misbehaviours is disappointment, deep sad disappointment that your child isn’t living up to your expectations as a parent. Other than guilt and shame, this is very motivating for your child to not re-offend, to change his behavior positively. It works well, but then, what is the result in the child? His self-esteem has suffered, and yet, “I know you can do better than that.” from you, might lead to the natural question, “Why did you do it ?” Guilt and shame as motivations for good behavior, can result in guilt and shame being a habitual response for the child. Low self-esteem can become a self fulfilling prophesy of low level behavior, resulting in low achievement, escapism and addiction . No, let’s not go there!

The fourth choice is Empathy. This is the Empatharian way of responding, of course. What happens? Your child misbehaves, and you observe him/her and know you are watching for the child’s needs. You say, “I’m imagining you’re needing xxx because of zzz, and you thought that by doing yyy , you could get it. Is that right?” The child is able to respond, be back in touch with being loved and cared about, and to express his feelings about whatever happened, and what his perceptions had been…

Do we need to make sure there are consequences for the misbehavior, and perhaps reparations need to be made somewhere? Yes. Probably. With the child, we can work out what is fair and appropriate, and the child suggesting the reparations makes him responsible for his actions, in an empowering way.

What is the result of this response? We have a responsible child, who is more understanding of his own needs and wants. We need to add a “Next time, please try to …” to avoid this misbehavior, and he can choose as a responsible person, if he will do so, or try to do so… Your child always wants to please you, and this is a sure path to creating a more pleasant child who is more of a joy to live with.

So, which is your choice, now that you can consciously make that choice? Are you an Empatharian parent?