A reminder from the Redefining Discipline blog post: Discipline is meant to teach the child how not to behave and guide them how to behave instead. Therefore, parents need to clearly outline what is deemed as a desirable behaviour and what behaviours are undesirable.
Children naturally are very curious and active by nature. According to Maria Montessori, children have absorbent minds, want to learn, and want to be independent (Heath, 2018). Remember children are active, not passive learners and that their absorbent minds pick up information from the environment unconsciously (Heath, 2018). That is why, children will get into things that you feel they shouldn’t because they are curious and want to learn more.
Parents often label any behaviours exhibited by their child that are not aligned with their ideal desirable behaviours, as misbehaviours. Depending upon how people parent their children, each individual parent can differ on the severity of the same misbehaviour from their child. For example, for one parent noncompliance and defiance may be seen as misbehaviours, while the other parent may not see these two qualities as misbehaviours.
What is the reason for the misbehaviour?
Before we discipline children for their misbehaviour, we must understand why they misbehaved in the first place. There is a multitude of reasons why child misbehave and act in a way that parents deem unacceptable. It is believed that misbehaviours stem from the main human goal which is belonginess (Heath, 2018) To achieve a sense of belonging, children will pursue the four goals of misbehaviours. Children’s misbehaviours are often mistaken, where the parents misinterpret the events that occurred, draw incorrect conclusions, and make flawed decisions (Heath, 2018).
The four main goals a child hopes to gain from misbehaving are: to gain attention, to gain power, to seek revenge, and to reflect feelings of inadequacy.
When children are given ample attention, from parents or other family members, they feel as though they have a place in the family and that they belong (Heath, 2018). Children whose parents fail to provide them adequate attention, will see misbehaviours that are designed to attract the desired level of attention from their parents (Heath, 2018). For example, your oldest who is 5 years old may hit their 3 year old sibling and make them cry to get attention from you.
To avoid this from occurring, it is recommended that parents give their children positive attention for desirable behaviours (Heath, 2018). Often, parents only notice their child when the child misbehaves. This teaches children that misbehaviours will get them the attention they crave from their parents and they will continue to doing it. Parents need to remember that they should not only give attention to their child when they are doing as you expect of them, but when misbehaviours occur, to determine the best way to address the misbehaviour such that it demonstrates to the child that you are interested in your child and the behaviours needed to be successful in life.
For children to feel a sense of belonging, they need to feel like they have influence and choice in matters regarding themselves, such as what activities they will do and what they eat (Heath, 2018). If you do not consult your child regarding these types of matters they may act out to regain a sense of control.
To prevent this from occurring, parents should provide children with experiences that give them a sense of control over their lives. Make them feel empowered! Giving children choice is one way of doing this, like asking them ”what would you like for dinner?” Of course, the choices given to the child may be limited to healthy foods only, keeping unhealthy food choices ‘off the table’. Allowing them to make choices and express their opinions boosts their self-esteem and allows them to feel a sense of belonging (Heath, 2018).
Children seek revenge when their previous attempts to gain attention or power fail. When children partake in this type of misbehaviour they remember the hurt they felt from past reactions by the parents to their misbehaviours to seek attention or power (Heath, 2018). Because of their hurt feelings, their misbehaviour is clearly vengeful as their goal is to take revenge on past hurts received from their parents in previous situations (Heath, 2018)
Reflection of feelings of inadequacy:
Children with feelings of inadequacy will have an attitude of despair and a perspective of ‘what is the use?,’ which are clearly visible in many different areas of the child’s life (Heath, 2018). These children will no longer engage in behaviours with the goals of seeking attention or power (Heath, 2018). Children with this type of misbehaviour will be seen as lazy, unmotivated, messy, or sloppy (Heath, 2018).
When a parent wants to address a misbehaviour, they first need to verify that this is where their child is coming from rather than assume that their child’s misbehaviour was designed to attract parental attention, or to gain power. Rather, the parents need to focus on the hurt feelings the child harbors that caused the child to misbehave to get revenge, and support the child when the child seems unmotivated (Heath, 2018).
Why are consequences important for children?
Consequences teach children to make appropriate choices and to take responsibility for their actions. Consequences help children learn and grow. It is important that consequences be given in a manner of being ‘a growth experience’ on the path to emotional maturity. If consequences are given in an angry way, they are deemed as a form of punishment and much of the benefits that could be gained in using a calmer approach will be lost.
Please note, that when it comes to your child’s safety i.e. your child wandering into traffic, using consequences may not be appropriate. Also, if your child is overwhelmed with schoolwork or your child is having a bad day, your child may need help completing the chore and could respond better using a ‘comfort’ approach instead of a lesson on consequences. Showing compassion in these type of circumstances are ideal instead of trying to teach them consequences.
Natural Consequences occur as a result of an action or behaviour. They occur automatically and are unavoidable (Heath, 2018). For example, your child does not want to eat dinner, the consequence of not wanting to eat is that they will feel hungry.
Logical Consequences are unnatural and are consequences that parents impose (Heath, 2018). It is a good choice for parents to use when they want to avoid using any form of punishment but want their children to experience the consequences that are logically related to their actions. For example, your 7-year-old child spilled juice all over the counter. You would give them a paper towel and tell them to wipe up the spilled juice rather than do it for them.
Parents need to use logic when holding a child accountable for their actions, once again, keeping in mind their age (Heath, 2018). If a 3-year-old breaks their older brother’s toy they should not be expected to replace the toy, whereas a 14-year-old who deliberately damages a younger sibling’s toy should be given the logical consequence of having to replace the toy (Heath, 2018).
What is nice about logical consequences is that you can combine them with induction (which will be discussed in the second part of this blog). By combining them, you can assist your child in making the connection between their actions and consequences which is much more effective than punitive approaches (Heath, 2018).
Understanding what a misbehaviour is and the underlying causes for them is the first step to understanding how to prevent an undesirable behaviour. This combined with teaching them consequences are the first steps to teaching them to self-regulate their emotions/behaviours and take accountability. In part two of the blog post, I will be discussing discipline strategies you can use for your children and how to use them properly.
Heath, P. (2018). Parent-child relations: Context, research, and application (4th ed.). Toronto, ON: Pearson.