“Bad behavior” manifests in lots of forms when it comes to children: from yelling and door slamming, to ignoring and rule defying, to relentless begging and tantrum throwing.
It can often feel overwhelming, never-ending, and infuriating - and before you know it, all of the wonderful communication and coping tools have vanished as we’re left responding in a way that our “highest self” just wouldn’t.
Any of these sound familiar? If so, this makes sense! You’re human, and we all have moments we wish we’d handled differently.
But I’ve got a helpful tip for future hair-pulling moments…
Remember this: Children often ask for love in the most unloving of ways. Under their “bad behavior,” there’s something else happening - and it usually involves big, overwhelming feelings that they just don’t quite have the tools to handle well at that moment.
Seeing it through this filter, you may start to realize that their behavior is less of a personal attack towards you and perhaps more of a sign that they're struggling in knowing how to handle the situation constructively.
Become your child’s Emotion Coach. Their bad behavior is a sign they need help navigating the situation.
Big feelings are part of life. There are times when everyone will feel sad, angry, hurt, and disappointed. The thing we want to teach our children is this: What are helpful and healthy things to do when you experience a big feeling?
Before you fall back into a familiar pattern of reacting to their bad behavior (which most likely isn’t working well for you or for them), pause and ask yourself these questions:
“What is the situation at hand right now?” See if you can bring a new level of perspective and objectivity to the situation. It’s like a puzzle.
“What might my child be feeling right now?” Tune into their inside experience. There are things happening inside their mind and body that they’re struggling to handle well.
“Can I help them make sense of their experience by connecting what’s happening and how they’re feeling?” Try to guide their attention inwards. It shows them that you care about their inside experience, and it ultimately helps them develop a helpful inner voice.
“What are more constructive ways for them to handle these big feelings?” Be their emotion coach and guide them towards better options and strategies.
Helping your child look inside and name the feeling they’re experiencing actually creates a profound shift in neurological activity, which often helps them feel calmer. Think of this trick as “name-it-to-tame-it.”
You might also direct your child towards self-soothing activities, like drawing or writing about their feelings, taking some time to pet the dog or bounce a ball for a while, or squeezing a pillow.
As their emotion coach, you can channel your energy into helping them look inside, make sense of what’s happening, and make a conscious decision on how to take care of themselves in that moment.
Most often, helping your child take Time In - rather than sending them to time out - helps them develop lifelong skills for problem solving, constructive communication, and learning how to take care of themselves in a loving way.