“You can’t feel your way to better behavior, you have to behave your way to better feelings.”–James Lehman
James Lehman, who operates The Total Transformation; who himself came from a rough background and upbringing, says that children don’t behave bad on purpose, but because they don’t know how to solve problems effectively. They act out at the new situations that life throws at them, and they do it well, because it works, according to Sara Bean, author of the blog post, “The surprising Reason for Bad Child Behavior: ‘I can’t solve problems'”.
It’s important to remember that children face first, emotional problems (angry, sad, frustrated, helpless, excited). It’s important for the child to learn how to deal with these emotions. The second problem is social/relational. Some children have the inability to get along well with children in their own age group, they may be shy, non-assertive, or on the opposite side too assertive and a bully, feeling more powerful at the expense of others. The third problem is functional, when a child has problems meeting responsibilities at home or school, losing homework, not doing chores, talking back to teachers in school.
She offers a tip, find out what the problem is your child is trying to solve with his/her behavior and offer a new solution. If you can’t manage this simple trick, their actions will continue to get worse. So, next time your child acts out, let the behavior ride out. And once she/he is calm, sit down with them, and talk about the incident, before you talk about the consequences. It’s important to build a calm relationship with your child, one where it is easy for them to converse about their problems. The earlier you do this, the greater their chances of talking with you next time something is bothering them, versus throwing a fit. If your child has a habit of acting out, it will take some more attempts for them to realize that they are not solving their problems in a fruitful way. The most important thing to remember as a parent is that you are helping your child identify the problem causing behavior, teach how to solve it, and hold them accountable, not to punish them for making mistakes or making them miserable.
An easier way to remember is how adults do Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Catch it, Check it, Change it.
Some practical tips:
Talk to your child when they are calm, if they refuse to participate or are abusive, you can hold one privilege until you can have a calm conversation.
1. Ask “What questions not why questions”. To ask “why” is to invite blame and excuses; it’s much more important to get to the deeper issues at hand, “What were you thinking when…?” If your child is unable to answer, it is ok to take a break, let them think about it, be patient, and then ask again, without pressuring them.
2. Focus on 1 issue at a time. Don’t go over 10 things they did wrong, just focus on one issue at a time. If your child brings up other issues, let them know you will bring it up another time. It’s overwhelming to go over so many issues, its easier and helpful to talk about one issue at a time.
3. Talk about replacement behaviors: What can your child do differently, the next time this problem comes up. Allow them to come up with their own idea and solution, making suggestions only if they are struggling.
4. Discourage wishful thinking. For example, a child may say “I won’t do it again, or I’ll do it better”. They think that they can do something without putting effort into it. It’s better to be more specific, asking them “How will you stop doing “that specific thing” next time? What will I see you doing instead?”
5. Be a positive role model. When life gets frustrating for you, don’t kick, scream, yell, curse, instead practice being a positive role model for your children, let them see you in control of your emotions. It’s ok to have stress as an adult, you will, and it will only get more stressful, it’s as important for parents to learn problem solving skills as it is for their children.
Be realistic with implementing these changes, they will take time to set in. Your role is to be a positive coach, giving a brief reminder of what he/she is supposed to do instead, and walk away. You may need to practice with different coping behaviors until they find the right one. Give your child positive recognition when you see noticeable changes as well as effort. The effort is as important as the change, because it will eventually lead to change.
Trust, that the more you have problem-solving discussions and coaching of your child, you will gradually see more of the coping behavior and less coaching needed, so the child can learn to self-regulate and improve their behavior, feeling better about themselves.