It takes skill to misbehave! Misbehavior is just the ugly mask of your child’s strengths. When kids want something, they tap into their strengths to get what they want, not their weaknesses.
For example, a verbal child might argue with you till you’re exhausted. An emotional child might cry or manipulate. A physical child is more likely to get aggressive or grab something they want.
A shift in attention to your child’s strengths can help here. It might sound counter-intuitive. However, instead of simply focusing on what’s wrong (or the sin), it’s helpful to recognize the strengths and gifts your child is using in the moment. You can then give the opportunity for the child to use those strengths or gifts constructively as part of a make-it-right consequence.
When parents make a goal to notice and affirm the strengths that contribute to misbehavior, it can transform discipline. Instead of a frustrating effort to manage behavior, it becomes a treasure-hunt to identify, affirm, and reposition your child’s God-given strengths.
Looking for your child’s strengths
All strengths are given for the purpose of equipping God’s children to do God’s work (Ephesians 2:10). But for all of us (parents included), our gifts can be hijacked by our selfishness and sin and used to misbehave. When this happens, the gift is still present, but it has “gone awry.”
Punishing your child’s misbehavior, without affirming the strength that contributes to it, may reinforce a child’s identification with the sin (I’m just a bad kid!). It might also stifle or weaken the child’s inclination to use their strengths in honorable ways.
As parents, it’s important to talk with kids about sin, selfishness, and forgiveness. We especially need to model confessing when we sin against our kids.
But confronting sin and selfishness doesn’t go well when kids’ brains are agitated. Redirecting kids’ gifts-gone-awry can be a great start to calming everyone. Pointing a child toward the honoring use of their strength could be the most effective discipline you can offer.
How you can point out your child’s strengths in misbehavior
Let’s say a child doggedly resists instructions to do a chore before playing.
What are your options? Yelling, grounding, threatening, spanking, or taking away privileges?
Instead, you can say with lightness, “You have amazing determination to go after what’s important to you. If you can use that determination to get your chores done, you’ll be able to get to the other things you want to do.”
It may take time to readjust your thinking. However, we have found that when parents learn to identify and affirm their child’s strengths during misbehavior, it often helps kids let go of defiance and opens their hearts to a desire to use their gifts in God-honoring ways.
Listed below are some examples of common misbehaviors and the gifts that tend to drive them.
12 misbehaviors and which strengths they point to
Arguing/Backtalk* → Honesty, strong feelings/opinions, confidence
Bossiness/Strong Will → Leadership, assertiveness
Complaining → Awareness of problems, potential for good problem-solving
Defensiveness** → Strong sense of right and wrong
Impulsiveness → Energy, living in the moment, quick responses
Insecurity → Awareness of the feelings and perspectives of others
Irritability → Sensitivity
Lying → Creativity, good memory, desire to keep the peace
Stealing → Planning, courage, ability to take risks
Stubbornness → Determination, intensity of focus
Whining → Persistence, insight into people (and what makes parents give in…)
Yelling → Expressiveness, desire to be understood
*Research has shown that argumentative children are less likely to lie or be deceitful. In the long run, they are more likely to adopt the values of their parents because they passionately exchange ideas instead of going underground with their perspectives.
**The kids that have the hardest time admitting guilt are usually those who feel the worst about having done something wrong, even if it doesn’t show.
Taking the opportunity to affirm your child’s strengths
We have a great opportunity when kids misbehave to look beneath the sin and identify a gift. When we do this, we can help our kids learn to value and use their strengths the way God intended — to help others and to bring God glory.
Apply it now:
- What is a common misbehavior your child struggles with?
- What might be one or more gifts/strengths contributing to that misbehavior?
- How could you point that out and help your child use their gift for good purposes?
- How might you pray for your child differently based on this insight?
Want to dig deeper into this idea? Listen to this podcast where we discuss the idea of gifts-gone-awry in depth.