Responding to Children's Negative Behaviorules


By Ron Hindbaugh M.A.


When children decide to be uncooperative, mouthy, or obstinate it can be hard for a parent to “keep their cool.” When my children have “pushed my buttons” one question would come up in my mind. Why did such immature or stupid behavior have this effect? The answer was always the same. I was giving the child the power to control my behavior. I didn’t like this answer and have worked for years to take this kind of control away from my children. The article today is my attempt to share some of the things that have worked for me that may be of value to you.

My first discovery was that some behaviors that affected me had little or no effect on my wife and visa-versa. It appears that each parent has a different level of tolerance when it comes to the negative responses that children are capable of. These responses range from toddlers biting others to older children "forgetting" to do their chores.

Each parent needs determine what behaviors in our children we allow to affect us. We are all different and while some parents tolerate children's negative behavior, other parents are unwilling to tolerate even the smallest deviation from the "norm."

Once we learn to recognize behaviors that act as triggers for us we can practice or prepare for them so that we can maintain the control over ourselves that we desire. If we do not learn to recognize these triggers then we can become as immature as the very children we are trying to help. I have observed parents who justify their anger by "getting back" or "getting even" with their child. Such parents talk themselves into believing that their anger is justified. Such parents may respond to a four year olds biting behavior by screaming or even biting the child. When asked why they chose to respond as they did this parent will justify their immature behavior by saying something like, "Now they know how it feels when someone bites them?"

Such responses are born out of parental frustration. While sometimes understandable, they are largely ineffective. There are two reasons that such responses do not work. First, children model adults. When adults use violence to cure violence, the child modeling the adult, becomes more violent. Second, an angry parent is a parent who has lost control. When the parent is not in control the child is in control. (If the child can get the parent angry, the child is in control, not the parent.) The child learns that if your want to be in control just do something that results in your parent choosing to be angry.

If you do not want your buttons pushed, it you do not want to become as immature as your child when dealing with their immature behavior, you must take control of yourself then you must recognize your behavior for what it is, your behavior. Your behavior is your choice and is not caused by your child or any other person’s silly or immature behavior.

When your child does something foolish such as hit another child do whatever you have to do to recognize you are a confident adult and not a child. Then say something like this, "Looks like you’re out of control. Can you control yourself or do you need my help. You choose. Either is fine with me." The message you are giving the child is that you have a responsibility as the parent and you will fulfill that responsibility. You will use the power you possess as a bigger person only if the child cannot or will not behave responsibility.

If your child is older and it would be ludicrous to even to suggest controlling your child, say something like this, "Looks like you’re out of control and not able to behave maturely. How sad. I wanted to give you adult freedoms but it doesn't look like I'll be able to do that for a while. Let me know when you have a plan for controlling that anger so I can decide what I do.” It is important that your child recognizes that you intend to do what you have to help him/her but that you will not allow mistreatment of others. You love them and are cheering for them but will not condone childish behavior. You also let them know you will not join them in the "control game."

When a teenager loses control and it appears that members of the household are in danger you may say the following. "You look like you are out of control. My friends at the police station know how to handle people who harm others. It would be sad if your choices made it necessary to request their help. I'll be anxious to see what you decide." In this instance you stand your ground but you do not join the child in an immature power struggle. As a parent, you model adult behavior for your child and let them know you will not give them the power to get you angry.

If negative behavior on the part of the child results in negative behavior on the part of the parent no improvement can be expected in the child. (How can two children help each other?) If the parent can remember that he/she is the adult then learning can occur as the adult demonstrates to the child how problems are solved. The added bonus is that no matter what the child chooses to do the parent is calm and feels good about who they are.