I often talk to parents who are upset and exasperated. Day care or preschool has told them their child is misbehaving. Daily reports are sent home. Warnings of termination are sometimes given.
The parents are beside themselves. They discipline their child when he/she gets home – take away privileges, a favorite toy or video, send him to time out, question her why she is acting the way she is, talk constantly about the situation to others in earshot of their child, repeatedly remind him to remember to behave himself. They tell me they’ve tried everything.
Sometimes in listening to these moms and dads, I sense what a huge challenge it is for a child to break through this bad boy/bad girl cycle once it’s underway. The expectation is there for him/her to be “bad”, along with the label. The negative circle seems to go round and round, fueled by the frustration of the childcare giver, teacher or even friends and the fears of the parents who so desperately want their child to behave.
But in the efforts of all to do so – to have this child behave – it seems we are missing a vital key. Why is the child misbehaving and how do we focus on the positive versus the negative.
I can’t stress enough that young children are not finished products who go off knowing all that they need to know and do in different situations. They don’t automatically share, or stand and wait patiently in line, or sit and listen quietly with hands to themselves in a circle. Some do . Some don’t. It often depends on temperaments, on stress, on fatigue, on readiness for what is expected. Little boys love to wrestle and run, often when it’s not the appropriate time. But the necessity to do this exists and we need to make sure it is met.
We need to expect misbehavior and think of it as behavior that is yet to be learned.
Think of yourself, perhaps struggling to learn a new concept in a new environment, mastering the computer or even the skills all new parents need. Negativity and punishment would not be what would support you or help you learn and grow. Focusing on your strengths and trust in your abilities from family, friends and co-workers is what we hope for.
It’s emotionally crushing to hear that your child is misbehaving or not following group expectations. Our first reaction as parents is to fix it – by punishment.
How about trying, instead, to accept it – without fear.
A happy greeting, an eye to eye loving exchange ; later “Wow, sounds like you had a hard time listening today.” Then, perhaps by leaving a space for your child to respond, he will tell you more why he had a hard time, maybe not.
” I bet you’ll have a better day tomorrow.” Then leave it.
Carry on with your time together, refueling his emotional tank, making sure in your own mind that he’s getting enough sleep, not watching too much TV or videos, has routine, predictability, appropriate limits, and enough focused attention in his daily life. Manage the positive things you can control.
Send him off the next day without warnings and confusing instructions.
“Have a fun day” said with love and a firm belief in your child’s goodness may be just the missing link that will restore his/her confidence, cooperation and ability to learn what it is he needs to learn.
If a child doesn’t know how to read, we teach. If a child doesn’t know how to swim, we teach. If a child doesn’t know how to multiply, we teach. If a child doen’t know how to drive, we teach. If a child doesn’t know how to behave, we … teach? punish?
why can’t we finish the last sentence as automatically as we do the others?
Tom Horner (NASDE President, Counterpoint 1998, P.2)
Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning