Since the early 90s, I have noticed a disturbing trend: children's problem behaviors seem to be getting more complicated and they are not responding to discipline that has worked in the past. From parents, caregivers and teachers I consistently hear, "I've tried everything and nothing seems to work. I spank them, ground them, send them to bed without any supper, take things away, and they just keep doing the same thing over and over."
Children keep doing the same things over and over because we adults keep doing the same things over and over and these things don't work. I have also heard, "Well it worked on me and I haven't turned out so bad." True, however, today's adults didn't live in the same world as their children. We don't realize that in our plugged-in lifestyles, we now have more things that distract us from staying present with significant others — especially our children.
I have found that this negative behavior comes primarily from stress. When we approach a situation with from love our behavior is cooperative, calm and open. When we come from fear, we are angry, hostile, defiant and closed. The very cells of our bodies are closed and aren't allowing toxins out or nutrients in. When we calm the stress we stop the fear driven behaviors and we become open and loving. The very cells of our bodies do too and toxins are released and nutrients can enter.
Let me give you an example of what I mean. Your child comes home from school and you ask, "How was school today?" You child throws his books down on the table and yells, "I don't want to talk about it" and storms to his room. You follow behind him because you are not going to have your child talk to you like that. Your parents didn't let you get away with it when you were a child and your child isn't either. What do you think will happen? Is this going to be a calming interaction? In the state you are both in, do you think that your child will appreciate your guidance about how to behave?
Now take the same scenario, but this time you have a better understanding of child developmental behaviors and stress behaviors: Your child's behavior has triggered a reaction in you. You feel the emotion well up inside of you and you want to react. You want to show them that you are the boss of the house and you will not tolerate this disrespectful behavior. But you stop and take a deep breath (maybe more). You don't personalize his behavior. You think, "This is not normal behavior for my child. What in the world could have happened that he would act like this? I need to find out so I can help him."
You wait and after you become calmer and you go to your child's room where he is lying face down on the bed. You calmly sit on the bed beside him. You connect to the love you have for him and begin stroking his back. You softly say, "Sounds like you had a bad day." He looks at you puzzled and says, "Yea!" Then you ask if he wants to talk about it. If he says no you calmly leave and go about your regular routine. If he says yes then you listen to him uninterrupted. Later that evening when he is more settled you calmly talk to him about his earlier behavior. You let him know that if he is upset about something, he doesn't have to yell or throw things.You let him know that everyone has a bad day but he needs to just let you know he needs time alone or he's had a bad day. (You may also need to let him know that from now on you will be doing the same thing). What do you think will happen? Is this a calming interaction? Have you been able to deliver the guidance you want your child to have about how to behave appropriately? Will this help him to learn self-discipline?
Children need our quiet, calm presence to help them learn how to manage stress. Today's children are stressed by increasing academic demands, bullying, worrying about terroristic threats, parents divorcing and many other things. I've come to believe that if we want our children to behave better, we need to understand and manage our own stress so we can help children manage theirs.
More Parenting Advice on YourTango:
- Parenting Tips For Divorced Couples
- What Type of Parenting Style Are You? Take Our Quiz!
Lessons In Parenting From A Lesbian Mom