Why Children Misbehave

About a month ago we went through a period where the girls were completely out of control. Someone was always being hurt, someone always being mean. There was a lot of yelling, a lot of tears, a lot of hurt feelings. The girls needed more attention , more love, more understanding, but the behaviours made it difficult to want to give them what they needed.

At some point, I believe, every parent gets to that point at least once. One night after a particularly rough evening, Ryan turns to me and says, “I just don’t get why she (Ella) does these things.”

The answer was painful. Obvious. We were responsible for her behaviours. Not directly of course, but in a lot of ways the things we did in response to her actions, caused more, bigger actions. At the time I wasn’t modeling calm behaviour. I didn’t model a gentle voice, I didn’t model patience, or a willingness to see someone else’s perspective. Her acting out directly mirrored my own acting out. Between Ella and I, Agatha also acted out. She no longer had comforting arms every time she needed them, she no longer had a soothing voice when scared, her sister no longer gave her the space she needed. With three people in the home angry and hurting, it only makes sense that Ryan felt the tension. It’s expected that he began to act out as well.

Use whatever analogy you choose. A family is a single unit, like the body, a car, or computer. When one part doesn’t functioning properly, the rest malfunction as well. As my hormones came back into balance and the quality of my sleep improved, my moods and level of patience improved. The difference was instantaneous and so beautiful. The girls calmed down, Ryan came home happier and better able to join the girls in their pursuits. Our family healed.

I believe, and please don’t take this as finger-pointing, that if a child is acting in a way that’s unacceptable to the family, then the parents need to look at their lives and see what the root cause is. Children, especially young children, pick up the stress and tension within the home and act on that. The moods in the home become substantial, palpable. A harsh word is as strong as a rough hand, a brick wall. When the people within the home are out of tune, then children aren’t capable of acting in a calm collected manner.

So what’s a parent to do? Sometimes situations are out of control. A person is sick, there isn’t enough money etc. Find out what you need in order to feel in control again. Or what can you do to make things better.

In my case it was a mental shift. I had to let go of needing certain things. I had to reaffirm my conviction that the parenting style we’ve chosen is the best for our family.  If it was a lack of money, we’ve been there, we’d find a way to make the money go farther, or decrease our wants. If a person was sick, we’ve been there too, we’d try to find ways to work around the illness without taxing the person. We’d try to find ways to focus on the rest of the family, rather than the sick person.

In all cases we find ways to have unstructured fun as a family. Before starting our fun we, the adults, talk and try to guess what behaviours we’re likely to see – running, climbing, jumping, screaming, grabbing, pushing, pulling, hitting…. and try to find ways to allow the behaviour without anyone else being hurt or afraid. From the “Playful Parenting” book we’ve taken the ‘love hit’ suggestion to heart a few times. If a child hits us, instead of getting upset, lecturing, saying ‘no’ we laugh and look goofy as we inform them it was a ‘love hit’ and now we’re so madly in love with them we must hug them and kiss them forever. They run away squealing – the hit and whatever caused it completely forgotten. The parents are now back ‘in control’ and everyone is enjoying their time together.

In order to fix hurt hearts and down feelings we don’t need a ton of time, but we do need to prove that we’re there for our children. We don’t need to give them everything, we can still offer guidelines and boundaries, but we must do so gently and respectfully. If we model it, they will follow it.

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “Why Children Misbehave

  1. This was a good one. We are having HUGE problems with Haley acting out. I blame a lot of it on the fact that she goes between 3 different houses on a weekly basis…Mine, Lark, and Chad. We are trying to limit the time spent on the “in-between homes.” The rules are different at all 3 houses. The reactions to her acting out are all different as well. It is difficult. Haley picks up on my mood when I have her and my mood is VERY different when getting her back from Chad then it is from Lark. Chad has set structure at his house and is trying, hard. When I get her back she clings, badly. To the point of crying if I am in the kitchen and she is not. She tries to go everywhere with me and bedtime in a nightmare. She sleeps in our room (not on our bed) just so we can sleep. When Marshall has her and I am not home, she listens, she asks politely, she listens, she doesn’t hit….but all I hear is “I want,” “No,” and “you do it!”

    • One thing I’ve found is that the more a child clings, the more they need. And the more you resist the clinging, the more they need. So sleeping in your room is a great idea. But also when doing the dishes – ask her to join you – we fill the sink with warm soapy (tons of bubbles) water and Agatha washes beside me while I tidy or wrap my arms around her and wash too. She loves to help witht he floors – anything I’m doing. When she asks to be picked up, if I resist she’ll cling even more – but if I pick her up happily, then she’s more inclined to jump down faster. The clinging could be viewed as fear. Afraid you won’t be around, so fill her up with love and reassurance and hopefully things will improve. Since you have to have times of seperartion, maybe you could make it into a game, and offer as many choices in the matter as possible.

      When agatha went for her surgery I did walking in the garden with her (walking in the garden – trail a circle along hand or tummy with one finger, looking for teddy bears, One step, two step, walk your fingers up her chest or arm – a teddy under there – tickle her) then I closed my fist around the teddy and told her it was a special ‘mamma bear’ and as long as she had that bear she’d know I was close and loved her very much. I then patted the bear over her heart and said “Now it’s there with you, and it can never get lost. When ever you need me, just touch the mamma bear and you’ll know I love you.” Even now she still talks about it – and when she’s needing love we look for her bear together.

      as for the “I wants, Nos, and you do it”s for the most part listen to her. So you want her to brush her hair (for example) will it really be the end of the worl if it isn’t brushed? No, sure there may be tangles, but allowing her to say no lets her know she’s valuable. When we hear “No” we often pause and say, “Hmm, you don’t want to huh?” well that sounds like a problem, can you help me find a solution?” For instance tonight Ella wanted a bath before bed, but she was VERY over tired and melting down. We said “no”, but she was very insistant. So we talked about it. “Hmm you really want a bath, but we said no…I can see how upset you are. these are my concerns: It’s late, your tired and if you stay up too much longer we think you’ll have a really rough day tomorrow.” She calmed down and told us she’d have a short bath. So we suggested a small amount of water – she didn’t like that – she wanted lots. So we said ‘lets find a solution.” we talked and decided that if she wanted a bath with lots of water and time to play that she’d have it in the morning after a good breakfast, but with lots of time before going out for the day.

      We were able to meet both of our desires. We weighted her wants equal to our own. It’s the same when a child says no – if you actually stop and talk about it you may discover the ‘no’ is for a reason you never considered, and from that perspective a ‘no’ is reasonable.

      The ‘I wants’ can be tricky – but I find it helpful to think of it in the sense that as adults we have the ability to run to the store for our wants, to go to the fridge or stove for our wants, to reach the shelf for our wants – a child is completely at our mercy. How would you like it if everytime you wanted something, someone said ‘no’? So we say “I’ll think about it” then we really do – why are we saying no? No bath because it’s late and she’s already too tired and 5 minutes for 40 gallons of water is too much waste. We both have valid reasons. Allowing her to voicce her reasons and us treating them as valid provides her with the freedom to heed our advice and go to sleep.

      To a child acts of servicce (you do it) are a sign of love. You ask her to put on her shoes – she demands “You do it!” Then you can say. “I know you can do it, but I can see you really need me close, so right now I’ll help” it lays it right out there, you let her know she CAN do it if she wants, but that you LOVE her and will do it.

      The more secure a child feels in your love, the less they’ll ‘misbehave’. I use quotes because I truly believe behaviour is subjective and a child is not ‘misbehaving’ but rather behaving different than we want them to act. But when I sit at the computer when Ryan doesn’t want me to – am I misbehaving? I certainly hope he doesn’t tell his co-workers his wife misbehaved.

  2. You are absolutely right Sarah. I love this post! Kestyn has been acting up a bit lately…it has taken immeasurable amounts of patience to deal with him, I agree, we need to understand them and their behavior is usually a result of something we’ve done, so finally rooted out the problem…he’s going through female overload!!! Too many girls in the house. lol He’s been constantly bugging me for a little brother. hmmmmmmm, we’ll see. But what if it’s another girl? LOLOLOLOL. So on Dave’s days off he’s always got lots of ‘guy’ things planned for the two of them. You’d think that would help. Nope, he’s fine when Daddy’s here and I get the attitude and behaviour problems when he’s back at work. But we do lots of fun stuff too…I’m just not Daddy. Other than that, don’t really know what to do for him…it’s not like Dave can just quit because it upsets Kestyn he has to go to work. And not like Daddy can’t spend time with his girls too cuz that makes Kestyn even madder, he doesn’t want to share him. I think once school starts it’ll be easier on him…he’ll have his friends at school and be able to get away from us girls for a while. Somedays I just wish he could somehow just know how good he really has it, there’s so many others out there that really have it bad and their Dad’s don’t spend ANY time with them whatsoever, nevermind dedicating most of his days off just to him…but then, how could he really know, he’s 6, his biggest worry is sharing Daddy time. I’m strangely glad that’s all he has to worry about…

  3. oops, wrong button too soon. Have you run into this problem yet? haha, not about too many girls since all you have is girls, but how are they when Ryan goes to work? How do you guys cope/handle it if they are having issues with it? Unfortunately this is the way it has to be…there’s no negotiation on work, Dave already changed around his schedule to Kestyn’s liking. Kestyn HATED when he worked Monday – Friday with only 2 days off, he was really horrible then, so Dave thought to try this 7 and 7 and his behaviour improved drastically, Kestyn counts the days and is so excited they get tons more time together, but even though the behaviour improved, it’s still there and a constant battle between us as I strive for more patience and understanding while at the same time feeling inadequate and not good enough. I would love some suggestions, if you have any, to try and help him understand his own feelings and cope with them.

    • I’ll have to watch to see what we do – for the most part we really don’t have too many issues with ryan working – he’s usually 5 on 5 off – but with OT and such he’s more like 12 and 2. The girls obviously miss him, but things are so different when he’s home compared to when he’s away that I’m not even sure it’s possible to compare.

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