EPISODE 18

Help! How Do I Address My Child’s Misbehaviors?

Do you feel at your wits’ end when your kids behave in the exact ways you’ve told them not to? Hitting their sibling, climbing on the furniture in the house, yelling at the top of their lungs the moment they see you’re on a phone call?

You’ve dealt with this, right? or at least with very similar behavior.

In this episode, you’ll learn about reasons why children behave in these ways, what need we have to address, and how you can go about doing it. 

  • It is so hard when our children do things that they know perfectly well that they shouldn’t be doing, right? 
  • When they’re rude with their sibling, or they’re disrespectful with us. 
  • We feel that all of our buttons of anger and frustration are being activated and turned on to the point where we’re about to explode emotionally, right? 
  • I’m sure that at least one of the following has happened to you with at least one of your children:
  • Your child climbs on the furniture of the house that they know they’re not supposed to climb on
  • Your child hits their sibling 
  • Your child yells at the top of their lungs exactly when you’re in a call just to get your attention. 
  • They throw something inside the house that they know they’re not supposed to and they break something. 
  • Etc., etc.
  • When our children keep doing things that we’ve repeatedly told them not to do, very frequently the reason is that they want our attention, and they want to feel that they have some control.
  • That we the adults are not the only ones who have control.
  • Children want to feel that they also have control over something in their lives.
  • And when they behave in these ways and they see our anger; they see our huge frustration, they feel they have some control over our reactions, that their actions create a certain feeling in us, “aha, I got you mad!” and this isn’t out of some evil desire; it’s just their inappropriate, dysfunctional way of telling you, “I feel controlled, and I need to feel I also have control over some things in my life!” 
  • Now, on the other hand, they also could be getting used to getting our attention only when they behave in ways that we don’t like. 
  • For them, some attention – even if it’s in the form of reprimand or anger – is better than no attention. 
  • They feel that at least you’re attentive to them, to what they’re doing, that you’re looking in their eyes rather than rushing to leave or rushing in the kitchen. 
  • They feel that they have your full attention without any distraction. 
  • Now, how do we typically respond?
  • Actually, we react rather than consciously respond, right?
  • We yell, we lash out a threat or a punishment, whatever comes to mind to get them to stop.
  • We respond in these ways, not realizing that we’re actually perpetuating this vicious cycle that proves to them that when they do A, they’re gonna get B. That when they do x thing that you hate, they’re going to get your attention, they’re going to feel in control on some level. 
  • And if your typical response is to yell or to come up with some form of punishment, it’s not that they’re looking for the threat or the punishment. They’re just unconsciously wanting your undivided attention. 
  • Now many parents – understandably because the parenting journey is filled with challenges – many parents ask themselves, “why is my kid continuing to do the very thing I’ve repeatedly told her NOT to do? She knows how this upsets me. She knows it’s wrong, and on top of it, she does it when I’m really busy!” 
  • We don’t realize that what they’re telling us with their actions is, “see me! Pay attention to me! I’m used to getting your undivided attention when I behave like this!” 
  • And perhaps lately you’ve been busier at work that usual, or you just had a baby, so the arrival of a new sibling is causing a lot of these feelings in your kid. 
  • Also, as I mentioned a minute ago, your child could also be trying to tell you – in this dysfunctional way of behaving in ways that they know they’re not supposed to – “this is how I feel control over something in my life.” 
  • “Look! I made my brother get angry. I have power. I have control over my sister. I need to feel that I have control and that I have power over something. I feel controlled. I feel that I don’t have control over anything, and so I’m gonna control others! I’m gonna control your reactions. I’m gonna control my sibling, and so I will do it in these ways.” 
  • The problem worsens when we don’t see the need beneath the behavior. 
  • And this brings me back to the topic of attachment that I spoke about in detail in episode 1 of the podcast because it’s such a critical topic to address.
  • One of the fundamental and most basic needs of children is to feel understood, to feel not just hear them, but you’re listening to their need. It’s about seeing their emotional needs and addressing them…that you’re not just focusing on what you want them to do – get dressed, brush their teeth, finish eating, pick up their toys, close their mouth when they’re eating, take their plate to the sink, put on their shoes, clean up their room, take a shower!…etc. 
  • They need to feel that your priority is to meet their emotional needs, their need to interact with you, to feel accepted by you, to feel that you show interest in the things they like and that they’re wanting to learn about, that you’re there to help them with their difficult feelings of confusion, jealousy, anger that they have sometimes, instead of hearing from you to stop crying or that that’s no reason to be upset. 
  • If you haven’t heard episode 1 of the podcast, listen to it. 
  • In that episode I speak in detail about how you can go about meeting these needs. 
  • But going back to what our children are telling us through these behaviors, if you’re asking yourself, “how do I address these situations when my kid keeps doing the very things I tell him not to do?”…before asking yourself, “what do I say to my kid in those moments?” or “how do I set the limit?”….first: let’s see what need they’re trying to meet with their behavior.
  • What need are they trying to meet in their very childish, immature, inappropriate way?
  • They want to feel seen by you, that they matter, that they have your attention, and that they have some form of control in their lives. 
  • All of us need to feel that we have some form of control over how certain things go in our lives – from the very young ones to the very elderly ones.
  • So try to take a minute to think about – and to talk with your partner if you share parenting with somebody else – to talk about how you give your child opportunities to feel that they have control over some things in their lives.
  • For example, the clothes they wear – as long as it’s appropriate for the weather – can they choose the clothes that they wear? 
  • Can they make their bed in their own way, even if it’s not the way that you would do it? If they’re very young, can they color outside the lines and paint in their own way? 
  • Can they show you their anger, their frustration, their jealousy without getting anger in return from you? Without getting an annoyed response on your part?
  • Can they express their opinions even if they think differently from you?
  • When you go out to eat at a restaurant, can your kid also vote on where you’ll go out to eat? 
  • Can your child choose some of the activities you’re gonna do for fun over the weekend? 
  • Can they decide whether or not they want to be in a particular extra-curricular activity?
  • Can they choose to simply stay at home and play with their toys or simply invent something new to have fun at home?
  • Do you let them choose which vegetables they’re gonna eat? As long as the vegetables they want to eat are available in the home, can they choose which vegetables they’re gonna eat?
  • If a child doesn’t feel that they have control over anything or almost anything in their lives, they’re going to look for ways that are unfortunately dysfunctional and inappropriate to feel that they do have some power over their lives and to call your attention to that need…by hitting their sibling, by beginning to say no with a lot of anger to everything you ask them to do, by (if they’re younger) climbing over the furniture to feel that they have some control over how they move their bodies (if they’re constantly told “sit still,” “stop fidgeting.”)
  • Actually, very young children – children around the age of 3 – who don’t feel they have any control over anything in their lives, who feel highly controlled – can actually stop going to the bathroom. 
  • They will actually not go number 2, they won’t poop because they want to feel that they have control at least over that.
  • They know it’s their body and they have control over whether they go number 2 or not.  
  • And these kinds of cases show that these children are going through situations where they feel highly controlled. 
  • They don’t know that they do it this way but unconsciously they’re trying to tell their parents, “I feel highly controlled!” 
  • So it’s very important to evaluate as parents, “what is going on beneath the behavior that I’m seeing?” 
  • To do what doctors do. A doctor looks at symptoms; they try to see what’s behind the symptom. 
  • The behavior is the symptom. What is causing the behavior/the symptom that we’re seeing? Even if the behavior could be highly annoying for us. 
  • Try to dig beneath it: what need is my kid trying to meet right now that they are not communicating in a healthy way and that I need to see so that I can meet that need in a healthy way? 
  • In their dysfunctional way, they could be trying to tell you, “I feel that all you do is tell me what to do!” 
  • “Change your clothes!” “Put on your uniform!” “Hurry up, you’re gonna be late!” “Do your homework!” “Eat all your food!” “Don’t move while you’re eating!” “Go brush your teeth!” “Go to sleep.” “Don’t touch that!” “Don’t make so much noise!” “Stop interrupting me.” “Don’t talk like that.” “Don’t touch that, it’s dirty.” 
  • If we actually analyze how many of our sentences that we communicate to our children throughout one day are orders, we would be so surprised. 
  • Who would like to be told what to do all day or most of the day? 
  • Imagine going through a single day in which you’re being told to do this and not do that by your partner, your supervisor at work, your brother, your sister, your coworker, your friend and if most of the interactions you had with these people were about their telling you what to do, how to do it, when to do it, and what not to do. 
  • I think it would be emotionally exhausting for any of us. 
  • Now, perhaps you’re thinking, “well yeah, but we’re adults. We already know what we need to do. Nobody needs to tell us. Kids don’t know. They have to be told.”
  • Yes, kids need to learn the basics of hygiene, healthy eating, good sleep habits, respect for the self and others, sure. 
  • But it’s very different to saying that we need to control them in order to keep them safe and healthy in their development. 
  • What they need is our guidance. They need us to give them opportunities to make their own decisions and to make their own mistakes. 
  • As long as those opportunities to make their own decisions don’t put their lives at risk and as long as those decisions are appropriate for their developmental stage, they need opportunities to make their own decisions, to make their own choices. 
  • Children need our guidance, not our control.
  • And I know it’s easier said than done, and sometimes the lines can get blurry, but your child is going to tell you when that line has been crossed. 
  • And they’re going to tell you through their behaviors, they’re so young, they’re not ready yet to go and say, “hey mom, you know what? I feel highly controlled by you. You need to really check that.” 
  • They’re going to show us through their behaviors. 
  • So listen to that form of communication and at least question, “hey, what’s going on in the home lately?” “How have I been responding lately?” “Perhaps I’ve been really anxious and I haven’t been paying attention to how I’ve been responding or perhaps I’ve been just barking orders lately because my state of mind has been highly stressed these past few weeks.”
  • So attuning to their communication with us that they manifest through their behavior is so important. 
  • When we control children, children learn to become dependent on us and on others to make decisions.
  • Gradually what they learn is to not trust their own inner voice, to not trust themselves to make important decisions in their lives, and to repress what they feel out of fear that all that they’re gonna get from it is more control. 
  • Other kids are just going to rebel against all that control that they feel they’ve had over the years, and they’re going to rebel by doing the very thing they’ve been told not to do because emotionally they are exhausted of being controlled in their lives. 
  • In this type of relationship, what children feel is that they live in an emotional desert where their parents don’t really know them, where they don’t understand them. 
  • They learn to see mom and dad as the person that is going to judge, the person that is going to bark orders, and they learn that whoever is older and bigger gets to order the little ones, the younger ones around and control other people. 
  • So there’s no connection in this kind of relationship. 
  • So we need to remind ourselves that there’s a big difference between guiding and controlling.
  • And as I mentioned in episode 2 of the podcast, part of guiding effectively (besides modeling the behaviors ourselves) is having negotiable and non-negotiable rules. 
  • Determine which rules are non-negotiable. 
  • For example, limits around safety, the need to eat healthy food during the day, the need to sleep enough hours depending on your child’s age, hygiene, respect for the self and for others. 
  • These are the types of rules that improve a person’s quality of life, and so they’re non-negotiable. 
  • But there are other kinds of rules can absolutely be negotiable. 
  • The negotiable rules, actually teach our kids important lessons about life, about relationships, and about themselves because they offer them opportunities to express their own suggestions about how to address a situation, how to solve a problem, to express their opinion about something and then hear the opinion’s of others. 
  • So, for example, if you decided that every day your child needs to eat vegetables, then you’ll make sure that in your home you have vegetables every day. 
  • So let’s say you serve your child a plate with food and it includes broccoli. 
  • And you ask them to try it; they try it and they say they don’t like it. They don’t want to eat it. 
  • You can tell them that after trying it and not liking it, they can eat another vegetable that is available in your home, that they can interchange it for another vegetable and eat that. 
  • In this way, they’re following your rule of eating healthy food, of eating vegetables every day, but you’re giving them the freedom over which vegetable to choose, if they already tried it and they didn’t like it. And you’re asking them to choose among the vegetables that are already in the home. 
  • You don’t have to get up and cook with a new vegetable from scratch. They can choose one that is ready for them to grab and eat. 
  • Everyone has different tastes in food, including certain vegetables that we don’t like. And honestly, we wouldn’t want anyone forcing us to eat every single thing on a plate if there’s something there that we just do.not.like. 
  • And I get it that kids because they’re growing, they need to eat healthy food every day, and it’s important that they try new foods so they can at least find out if they like it or not. 
  • But let’s not confuse our responsibility as parents to ensure our kids eat healthy food every day, with control, that they eat every.single.thing. we serve them.
  • So when children have a healthy balance between the negotiable rules and the non-negotiable ones and when they have an adequate amount of limits, then they learn to listen to and respect their parents AND to listen to and respect themselves. 
  • They learn that they also have a voice in the home, that they also can contribute valuable suggestions to their own lives and to their relationships and to the family dynamics, and they feel acknowledged, and they feel respected and understood.
  • And you are meeting a very important emotional need by doing this. 
  • So, what do we need to be paying attention to here with regard to the behaviors that they’re constantly showing lately and that we’ve repeatedly told them not to do?
  • First: think about what kind of attention your child has been getting from you lately.
  • Has it been quality time? Not your definition of quality time, but their definition of quality time. 
  • Maybe for you, quality time is sitting together and reading a book, but maybe for your son or your daughter it’s your listening to them with your undivided attention, listening to them talk about their favorite show or playing their favorite board game.
  • Has your child felt lately that you’ve given him or her the support they needed when they felt anxious about something or angry about something?
  • Does your child feel that his opinions matter to you? How have you shown it lately? 
  • Have they felt a lot of control lately or are they getting guidance? 
  • It’s important to assess all of these things so we can see what may need changing.
  • It’s important that our children don’t internalize that “mom and dad only really listen to me and pay attention to what I do when it’s the kinds of things that they don’t like me to do.”
  • It’s important that they don’t internalize, “mom and dad are not interested in what I think.” 
  • So if recently you’ve seen a change in your home, perhaps the arrival of a new sibling, perhaps your mother just moved in. 
  • It’ll be helpful to think about how the environment in your home has been since you began to see these behaviors. 
  • What has changed lately? Are you perhaps a lot busier with work?…..
  • It’s so easy with plants to see when they’re not thriving, not growing, when a plant is dying, it’s so easy to immediately ask ourselves if it needs more water, more light, less light, if it’s maybe an outdoor plant, maybe it needs less water. 
  • But with kids, it’s not as easy for us, right? 
  • Our default is not to think, “what about the physical, psychological and emotional environment could be influencing this behavior he’s showing?”
  • Our default – if we’re honest – is to blame them and to attribute practically everything they do to their choices, thinking they did it maliciously. We take it personally. 
  • It’s not as easy to see how the emotional and psychological environment that they’re in every day, that they study in, that they play in, that they’re taken care of in, the environment that they breathe in the home, how it’s impacting their behaviors. 
  • So if you want to learn more about effective limit-setting and how to respond in a respectful and assertive way, not using punishments and learning why punishments don’t promote your child’s growth, then listen to episode 2 of the podcast. 
  • But in the meantime, ask yourself the questions I mentioned.
  • I promise you, seeing what’s underneath those behaviors is going to be so much more effective than losing your patience and feeling at your wits’ end. 
  • Thanks for tuning in, and I’ll be here next week. 
Check out my podcast where every other week I release a new episode to offer you the knowledge, guidance and tools to start making the shift in your personal and family life to become the parent you most want to be for your children.