I don’t know if there is anything more frustrating than kids who are misbehaving. It’s one of the most common reasons I get a request to work with a family and when I was working directly in schools it was also the reason I most often saw kids being referred by teachers.
Defiance, disrespect, disobedience. All of them cause the adults to pull their hair out and run for the hills.
In my experience, without there being a significant trauma or psychological/medical diagnosis that is underlying the behavior, there are five main reasons why kids aren’t behaving the way the adults in their lives believe they should be.
Bad/Missing instructions. Even as a practicing family and business coach, I fall victim to bad habits and circumstance and occasionally do this myself. I make the assumption that my kids should understand what I am thinking and follow brief or limited instructions. The one that has gotten me more than once is, clean your room. It takes only a few moments of looking in the room after an hour of “cleaning” by my children to know that my version of clean and theirs is totally different. Instructions must be clear, concise and best practice is to also make them written or give some other type of visual cue.
Overstimulated kids. Warning, I’m about to climb on my soapbox for a moment. Kids nowadays are way overstimulated and they are often crumbling under the weight of too many expectations and distractions. Sometimes they are physically overstimulated, other times its a mental or emotional concern. Allowing kids scheduled downtime and quieting the surroundings is a great way to make sure they are having quiet or still time. 10-15 minutes is more than enough for some kids, so it doesn’t have to be long, but teaching them to unplug and unwind helps protect you from overwhelmed meltdowns. Mindfulness strategies can also help.
Strained relationships. I attended a parenting seminar several years ago and have kept one of the comments as a mainstay when I work with parents. Rules without relationship equal rebellion. The basis for rules is a shared value system. Without a relationship between the child and adult, there may be an absence of that shared piece. This is a common cause of strain in blended families. Aside from the emotional response kids can have to the separation of their parents, having a “new” parent come in and expect to enforce rules can be frustrating when sufficient time hasn’t been taken to establish the relationship. The best way to build relationship is time. Bonding can occur in small spurts of time, but it needs to be intentional. When there has been a secure attachment, but there is conflict impacting the relationship, it may be time to call in support. A trained counselor or coach can help.
Missing skills. What this means simply is that the kids don’t know how to do something. What they don’t know how to do can be hard to pinpoint, but it’s an important part of understanding behavior. The Collaborative Problem Solving approach to getting kids to behave better is that kids generally do well, when they can, meaning when they aren’t there is always a reason. More times than not, this reason is they are missing some essential skills. Identifying these skills can begin with a skills inventory found on the Think Kids website. Once you’ve found some of the missing skills you can work on teaching those skills and reinforcing the appropriate behaviors as you see them. For example, for a child who is missing emotional regulation skills, you might help them identify the emotion they have and praise them for choosing an appropriate coping skill.
Inappropriate expectations. I have very mature children, and while this is a great blessing in many ways, my husband and I are always conscious of the fact that we don’t want to forget that our children are still children. As much as I love my mom, one of the things she often struggled with is expecting children to behave as adults would. I can’t fault her too much since in those days there wasn’t a lot of info readily available about child development, but even now I often see adults expecting children to do thinks that they simply shouldn’t be able to. Focus and paying attention is a big one. Parents are often frustrated by kids who lose interest or get fidgety, but often they’ve simply run through the developmentally appropriate attention span that they have. The best way to manage this is to plan your days and events with the kids in mind, or at least give them and you an out if they aren’t able to rise to the challenge.
So I promised you my best advice on how to handle misbehavior, right? Each of the little tips will help you I mentioned above will help you in the moment, but the best advice you’ll need no matter what the cause of misbehavior. Are you ready?
That’s right, take a breath. When kids misbehave, parents get all bent out of shape worried that the WHOLE world is watching us ready to condemn us for our horrible parenting. Subconsciously, we might fear that we are to blame for what is going on. And it’s also totally natural to be irritated by a tantrum or sassy back talk. But you’ve got to take a breath and not get too worked up which generally causes us to overreact and make matters worse. Kids act up, sometimes for what seems like no reason at all, take a breath and handle it, you’ve got this!