Welcome to our second installment of “how to be the parent” as we zero in on the fascinating and often frustrating topic of discipline.
Last month we encouraged you to adopt the mindset that discipline is about teaching your child what to do (re-read part one). This quote captures essence of the discipline mindset:
“If a child doesn’t know how to read,
“If a child doesn’t know how to swim,
“If a child doesn’t know how to multiply,
“If a child doesn’t know how to drive,
“If a child doesn’t know how to behave,
we... teach? …punish?”
Why can’t we finish the last sentence as automatically as
we do the others?
Tom Herner, 1998. former president of the
National Association of State Directors of Special Education
A good parent investigates the reasons behind a child’s challenging behavior.
All behavior is a form of communication. An infant may cry when she is hungry or wet, just like an adult may yawn when he is bored at work. A child’s behavior has meaning, but we don’t always understand the message. Because young children are in the beginning stages of developing language skills, they are not always able to tell us what is wrong/what they want. It is our job as parents and teachers to get curious about the reason why a child is acting in a particular way before we can teach them a new way to act.
WARNING: Challenging behavior will push your buttons and tempt you to lose your adultness. Fight this urge. Take a deep breath and calm down first. Your job is to discover what is causing the behavior. You can’t do that well if you are in melt-down mode yourself.
Here are two important clues that will HELP YOU determine why your child is misbehaving. Ready?
Research shows that children use challenging behavior to either:
- get something, such as attention, a toy or a nap, or,
- get out of doing something, such as going to bed, eating a new food or getting buckled in the car seat.
This means you need to put on your detective hat and investigate:
- Pay attention to what is happening when your child displays challenging behavior. Is there a trigger for the behavior? What conditions lead up to the behavior?
- Notice when the behavior occurs. Is there a time of day when you child is most likely to act out? How can you shift/adjust your family schedule or offer extra support (snack!) to work with your child’s natural rhythms?
- Brainstorm ideas about what your child is trying to get or avoid doing by using challenging behavior. The more you watch your child, the more you will be able to narrow down the possible reasons why behavior is occurring.
Remember: the goal of this detective work is not to collapse your expectations or to give your children free reign because they are upset about what we are asking them to do. The goal is to understand what they want so you teach them a new way to behave in that situation - that's what we'll focus on next month.
Here’s one more resource to encourage you: