It can take skill to misbehave! When kids want something, they tap into their strengths to get what they want, not their weaknesses. Misbehavior can therefore hold clues to reveal your child’s strengths.
For example, a verbal child might argue until you’re exhausted. An emotionally sensitive child might cry or manipulate. A physical child is more likely to get aggressive or grab something they want.
A shift in attention to discovering your child’s strengths can help here. It might sound counterintuitive. 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. Then, you can create an opportunity for the child to use those strengths constructively as part of a make-it-right consequence.
When parents aim 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.
Clues to your child’s strengths
All strengths are given to equip God’s children to do God’s work (Ephesians 2:10) and for the benefit of other believers (1 Corinthians 12:7). But for all of us (parents included), when our gifts are hijacked by our selfishness and sin, those gifts can show up as misbehavior. The gift is still present when this happens, 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.
Talking with kids about sin, selfishness, and forgiveness is important. 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, and it may harden their hearts toward true Holy Spirit conviction.
Instead, 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.
Affirm your child’s strengths in misbehavior
Let’s say a child doggedly resists instructions to do a chore before playing. What might your typical response look like? Yelling, grounding, threatening, or taking away privileges?
Instead, you can say with lightness, “You have an 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.”
A classic format to affirm a gift-gone-awry could be:
- I see that you have a powerful gift for________________.
- How you’re using that now is not as helpful as I’ve seen you use it before.
- Maybe you could use that gift to help us solve the problem we’re dealing with.
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 to let go of defiance and open their hearts to using their gifts in God-honoring ways.
Below are some common misbehaviors and the gifts that tend to drive them.
Not sure what to say?
Listen to Episode 128 of our podcast, “Is Your Child’s Misbehavior Actually a Gift?” where we walk through common scenarios and provide scripts to use with your child during the heat of the moment.
12 misbehaviors and possible strengths
Arguing/Backtalk* → Honesty, strong feelings/opinions, confidence, verbal skills
Bossiness/Strong Will → Leadership, assertiveness, planning
Complaining → Awareness of problems, potential for good problem-solving
Defensiveness** → Strong sense of right and wrong, high standards
Demanding exact fairness → Strong sense of justice
Impulsiveness → Energy, living in the moment, quick responses
Insecurity → Awareness of the feelings and perspectives of others
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 the opposite of lying is arguing, and it can be a positive sign that teens respect their parents. When kids are debating an issue, they are sharing details of their life and trying to understand their parents’ point of view.
**Kids who have the most challenging time admitting guilt usually feel the worst about having done something wrong, even if it doesn’t show.
A practical example
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 as God intended — to help others and to bring God glory.
Kevin, a coaching client, discovered a creative way to deal with dinner chaos. When his daughter began to get loud and out of control, he identified her gift-gone-awry.
“You have a strong, loud voice, and you are really passionate and expressive. And if there is ever anyone that is injured when you guys are playing softball, you would be the one to call for help. And I see your passion for helping other people as well.”
He went on to capitalize on this teachable moment and talk about the importance of conviction and passion in many aspects of life. His daughter and his other kids became very attentive as Kevin turned a stressful dinner time into an opportunity for connection and learning.
Questions to ask yourself:
- What common misbehavior does your child struggle 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, including fun stories and the biblical basis for this concept.
- Download the ebook Four Messages Every Child Longs to Hear.
- Register for the Discipline That Connects With Your Child’s Heart online course.