First seek to understand. One of the biggest mistakes we make when addressing problem behavior in kids is charging ahead before we even understand the behavior. First, before we lecture, consequence, setup a plan, or reward, we must seek to understand the behavior.
Why? Because behavior is far more than just a simple stimulus and response. When our child is demonstrating a PATTERN of behavior that is problematic, in conflict with our values or disruptive to the setting we are in. There is more to it.
When we UNDERSTAND their behavior, a couple of things happen:
1. Understanding creates empathy. We may not AGREE with or LIKE the behavior, but we get it. We understand why, in the child’s position, that behavior makes perfect sense.
2. Understanding enhances our relationship with them! One of the most damaging forces in behavior management is that it damages our relationship with the child. We get into an “us vs them” mentality. For the child, this is rejection, abadonment, loneliness. Behavior typically does not improve under these conditions. Rather, it picks up speed and rolls like a snowball downhill.
3. Understanding communicates to the child that they are OK, nothing is wrong with them. When we first understand the behavior and have empathy for the child, we demonstrate to them that they are not wrong, bad, naughty or broken in some way. They are just human, like the rest of us.
Behavior problems typically come from a child being “in over their head” in some way. They are being asked to perform skills they have not yet acquired. They are communicating feelings, hurts or traumas. They are expressing their self-doubt and fear. They have a need that is not being met. When we can tinker around, investigate, ask questions and listen to the answers we have a chance to understand the behavior and then intervene in a meaningful way.
Real change happens when we get to the root of this unmet need and dig it out. I have several tools that I have used over the years to understand problem behavior in children. They have been invaluable to me in creating lasting change for children, their teachers and their families.
So when you are tempted to charge ahead with your parenting tools or behavior management tools, press pause and make sure you have taken the time to understand. If you need help in this process, that is what I am here for!