Searching for Solutions to Misbehavior

As parents we all want to do the best we can for our children. Often, the solution to a behavior problem requires trial and error. Even when you have a parenting style that works for you most of the time, inevitably you will find yourself scratching your head trying to understand what is behind a particular misbehavior so you can reach in your bag of parenting tools and solve it.

Here is an example that I heard about from a mom whose son, Mark was bothering other kids at school. The behavior ranged from hitting and pushing to roughhousing other kids without provocation. Normally, this kindergartner was well-behave and had never exhibited 'bullying' behavior. Teachers and mom were a bit stumped.

As a positive discipline school, everyone worked together to try and solve the mystery. First isolating him was tried, then he would be sent to the office and several times was sent home. Mom let him know that she was concerned and all attempts by staff and mom to try and understand his motivation did not seem to help. There were some issues the family were dealing with that would make one suspect that this behavior was related to undue attention. The consequence of going to the office was quickly dropped when Mark revealed that he actually liked going to the office. He could read books and write. It was also interesting to note that his misbehavior was only occurring during the afternoon when he was in child care at his school not during class time.

Needless to say, this went on in varying degrees for several weeks. Mom was upset and as moms will do, she worried that this behavior was a predictor of the future.

Now, this final call to come and pick up Mark for shoving a classmate really hit mom hard. On the way to the car, mom frustrated, upset and feeling helpless to handle this behavior, started to cry. Mark was stunned. He had never seen his mom so upset about something to do with him. He wanted to know why. So mom told him. 'Mark, I afraid that the kids won't like you or play with you anymore. I am so upset and I don't know what to do' authentic response.

And, you might be surprised to learn It has been several months since that incident and Mark has not had one instance of bullying behavior at school or at child care.

As positive discipline trained parents, we know that misbehavior has a goal. And, we can determine that goal fairly easily. Mark got a lot of attention for his behavior, even though it was negative. We could make an assumption that because he was so well-behaved most of the time, really being aggressive with other kids was sure to make an impact. We also know that these decisions are not malicious or premeditated. Perhaps, with all that was going on at home, (absent father, new partner for mom) Mark was not getting what he needed. Bullying was an avenue open to him and he took it. Notice, we don't have to know the underlying 'why' to act.

Now, parents also want to shield their children from unpleasantness and from 'adult' upsets that may upset them. But, in this case, mom's unplanned, authentic response to Mark's continued misbehavior impacted him in such a way that he stopped doing it. And, now mom has another way to interact with Mark. She can be real about how his behavior good and bad affects the family in age appropriate ways. Children need to learn compassion and that their actions have real impact on others.

This process also points out that sometimes it isn't the first thing you try or the second. But, the important thing is to not give up or let inappropriate behavior continue or even worse label the child as a bully. There is a reason children misbehave and it's not because they are just bad.

If you think this approach would work for you, take a look at our parenting classes.

Author: Phyllis Grannis