I’ll never forget her statement. I was speaking to a grade-school teacher in a Christian school about behavior problems with her students. In the context of the conversation she actually seemed more upset about the obedient kids than the defiant ones.
She declared, “I can always tell the kids parented by strict parents who follow parenting programs that demand first-time obedience. They do what you say but take no risks. They won’t give answers unless they know they’re right. The kids who fight back, they are usually the bold ones, the creative ones, the energetic ones. Many of them are leaders. I love the chance to shape these kids!”
Have you ever noticed that kids rarely misbehave when they feel truly happy and deeply secure? There’s a reason for this.
When our children misbehave, there is almost always underlying discouragement or anxiety that drives the misbehavior. Rushing to address the misbehavior without understanding the discouragement often backfires, in one of two ways:
- It fuels the power struggle flames and misbehavior escalates.
- The intensity of effort to make it stop “works” to curb misbehavior in the short run, but feeds the discouragement, which feeds further misbehavior in the long run.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
It was a Sunday evening. I was emotionally and physically done for the day and looking forward to a quiet house. Suddenly I overheard squabbling about who was the rightful owner of a large stuffed panda bear.
My engagement with sibling conflict has often aggravated my son’s anger: he feels criticized by my effort to protect his younger sister. I should have known better than to get involved in this panda bear affair, especially when I was already a little bit cranky! But I was tired and I just wanted them to go to bed so I could have a little peace and quiet to start my week.
We can hardly believe it’s 2015 already! Before we dive into a year of new blog posts, we thought we’d dwell for just a moment on some of your favorites from 2014. Here are the ten most-clicked parenting tips of 2014.
P.S. If you know a friend or relative who might benefit from some Connected Families insights, this would be a GREAT post to share with them!
We often see a common parenting cycle when kids are prone to anxiety.
In short, it goes like this:
- Child feels anxious
- Worried, but well-meaning parent “encourages” the child toward to overcome the anxiety by pushing the child
- The child gets more anxious and withdraws, or has a meltdown in order to feel in control
- The child feels more ashamed and anxiety builds
- Parents feel scared about the future and the anxious (and usually very emotionally sensitive) child picks up on this and grows even more anxious
- Repeat at increasingly higher intensity
This cycle might be about homework, new experiences, social situations, or any number of challenges.
We’ve often heard parents say, “I hate to yell, but the kids just won’t listen until I do!”
If the kids aren’t listening to requests, it may be about more than inattentiveness. It could be that the family culture does not exemplify respectful listening. We have seen in many families that often kids who don’t listen well are kids who don’t feel very listened to. Learning to view listening issues as a whole family problem — and not just one disobedient child’s problem — has helped many parents better address the listening issue with their child.
Recently in a parent coaching session a parent shared a feeling that I’ve felt a few times myself: “Sometimes my kids deserve to be yelled at when I’ve asked them to do something multiple times and they ‘forget’ or don’t do it!” Not only might we feel like they deserve it, but it also feels good to let off some of our pent-up steam.
Over the years, we’ve learned a few things about what’s really going on when we yell at our kids:
Scene: I pace the entry at our house, arms crossed, brow furrowed, occasionally glancing at the clock on the wall. After what seems like an eternity, my daughter walks in the house. I aggressively say, “Where were you?” (Not that it matters.) “You’re late, and now we’re all going to be late, too. Wash up for dinner and let’s get going.” My tone tells her she’s an annoyance and someone who deserves my harshness and belittling words. Then I put the cherry on top: “You’re grounded from going to your friend’s house for the next two days!”
With a flurry of stomps, my daughter marches toward her room. There’s a two-second pause, followed by the ever-maddening door slam. That door slam is enough to send me over the edge! I sit and stew. And she sits and stews. Our relationship is damaged and both of us are now upset — not because of the initial issue, but because of how we’ve treated each other. We are stuck. I am stuck. And I don’t know what to do.
It seemed like this was the consistent cycle in our house. Every time my daughter was late, things just went poorly.
As I glanced at my watch and noticed that she was late AGAIN, I felt mad — but also resigned. Were we really going to ride this merry-go-round again? All five people in our family needed to get out of the house, ON TIME! And now it wasn’t going to happen, AGAIN.
Somewhere, deep inside, I began to long for this interaction with my daughter to go better than I knew it would if I did what I always did. But how?
Every parent wants obedient children. But the parent who wants an obedient child without putting in the hard work to earn that child’s trust is on shaky ground. You see, true obedience grows out of the soil of trust. Compliance, though it looks like obedience, grows out of the soil of fear.
Sadly, most parenting literature emphasizes the importance of gaining obedience without imploring parents to do the hard work of earning their children’s trust. This sets parents up to work far harder on fear-based compliance than on true obedience. Kids who are punished for misbehavior tend to either comply out of fear, rebel out of resentment, or some combination of both responses.
There is a better way. We call it “Discipline that Connects.”
Recently we received this story from “Shelly”, who was able to communicate love in misbehavior and saw it bear fruit with her 8 year-old-son…
This morning my son Garrett was getting into his grumpy, yelling, the-world-is-against-me mode. I asked him, “It seems like you’re not feeling very loved right now. Is that what you are trying to communicate to me?” He yelled, “YES!”
I said, “I am messing up if I’m communicating I don’t love you – because what I want to say is that I love both you AND your brother in the midst of your hard time. Can you tell me how I could better communicate love to you?” He said he’d think about it. He returned later in a better frame of mind, and told me that it was just his own discouragement and nothing I was doing.
If Shelly had tried to get Garrett to see that his attitude was the problem, he probably would have resisted and accused her back. It was her “kindness that lead him toward repentance” (Romans 2:4). No longer was he unfairly venting his discouragement by yelling at his family, but he was insightful and honest about his feelings (something many adults don’t accomplish).
So the next time your child is struggling, how could you connect in a way that expresses unconditional love, or ask what your child needs in order to to be reminded of your love?
Frustrated by constant discipline challenges? Take 15 minutes to read our free ebook When Your Child Misbehaves – Four Strategies for Lasting Change.