Becky and her two daughters, six-year-old Brianna and four-year-old Maisie, were at a playdate. The girls were downstairs with an older girl who was bit of a mischievous spitfire. Maisie came up and Becky noticed immediately that her hair had been cut.
Julia was fed up. Her kids fought daily about their responsibilities, and Julia was at the end of her patience. Daily power struggles were beginning to define their relationships as the kids grew more discouraged and Julia more determined to stop the “misbehavior.” So Julia came to us for help.
As we sat and talked, it was clear from Julia’s description of her children’s behavior that there was more going on than mere misbehavior. We discussed how kids’ “misbehavior” is often just the tip of the iceberg of hunger, discouragement, anxiety, or tiredness. Julia went away from her session with a resolve to better understand both her challenging son Josh and her daughter Ashley, and help them better understand themselves. She wrote this report in preparation for our next session:
Parents often think about how to connect with their children — but what we don’t always realize is that parents can connect even when children are misbehaving!
(In fact, sometimes the middle of misbehavior is the most powerful time to connect.)
If you haven’t already, check out our piece about the importance and power of empathy when kids misbehave. Then, add to your list of practical ways to connect with this short video that gives more examples of how to make sure kids know, “You are loved no matter what!” even when they misbehave.
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Sometimes it takes a while for parents to change in ways that lead to deeper respect from their kids. Sometimes it can happen fast. When Dan attended our weekend workshop he saw an immediate change by practicing what we call a “do-over.” Here’s his report:
An hour before we left for your seminar I was getting ready to go. Our 12-year-old son Will was sitting on the steps. He asked why we needed to go to the seminar. I explained that his mom and I were going so we could learn to control some of the chaos in our household. His reply was, “If you think that’s going to work, you’re retarded!”
Charles was almost sure his pre-teen daughter Sara knew she was loved even when she misbehaved. But he wanted his “almost” to be an “absolutely,” so he asked her: “Honey, do you know that you are loved, even when you misbehave?”
Sara answered quickly. “No.” She didn’t justify her answer.
Charles was shocked. After all, he is a loving and thoughtful dad who has worked hard to communicate his love. Yet Sara not only didn’t know it, she was quick in her answer. She decisively declared that she often didn’t feel loved when misbehaving.
The fact that Sara — parented by thoughtful, loving parents — did not always feel loved when she misbehaved is an indication that there are probably lots of kids like her. Unfortunately, even though parents almost unanimously say that they love their kids unconditionally, many of their kids doubt that they are loved unconditionally.
Brian and Jana were very concerned about how much work it was to get their 8-year-old son, Brady, to do much of anything – look up from his book when they talked, get ready for school in the morning, get dressed for baseball, take a shower… Just to get the kid to tie his shoes was an aggravating power struggle.
Brian observed, “I need to out-think him to get him to do something. And it has to be creative, or it doesn’t work.”
To help Brian understand and feel the impact of the “outfoxing game” on his son, I asked Brian how it would feel if his boss needed to outmaneuver him or threaten to dock his pay to “get him to perform” at work. Brian answered, “Pretty unmotivating.”
15 year old Dave (not his real name) ended up in my office because he’d been repeatedly caught viewing online pornography. His parents had “done everything we know how to do” and still the relationship was eroding. We often like to work with parents at times like this, but in this case, since Dave was willing to come (teens often are not willing), I agreed to see him.
I quickly heard from Dave what I hear from many teens in trouble with their parents:
At parenting workshops we often ask the question, “What is the goal of your discipline?” The basic answer we most commonly hear is best summarized like this: “To make bad behavior stop and to teach immediate obedience.”
In Hebrews 12:10-11 the Bible gives us a different vision for discipline. We’re told “God disciplines us…in order that we may share in his holiness” and so that “later on (there will be) a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”
Do you catch this? God’s discipline is not intended to have immediate results, and those results are not about right behavior but about God’s righteousness and peace. Imagine how things might be different with your children if every time you disciplined them, your goal was for them to experience God’s holiness, with an eye for God’s righteousness and peace.
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.”
When kids act up, it’s a parent’s job to guide them through the difficulty. But kids’ trouble often pushes parents’ buttons. Need for control? Push. Desire for quick fixes? Push. Anxiety about what’s gonna happen with this demanding kid? Push. Inconvenient timing? Push.
The kids get treated as if they’re the only ones in trouble — but in fact, their parents are in trouble too. It’s a different kind of trouble. Harder to solve. But trouble nonetheless.