Why Do Kids Misbehave?

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By Michael Anderson and Timothy Johanson

The story goes that Willie Sutton, the notorious BANK robber and prison escape artist, was once asked by a reporter why he robbed BANKS. According to the legend, Sutton replied, “Because that’s where the money is.”

The story makes us smile because it reminds us of the human tendency to ask, “Why?” about others’ behaviors when the reason can be explained in fairly simple terms. Why rob banks? Because that’s where the money is.

A similar principle is often true in our parenting. Parents ASK QUESTIONS that presume that there is a complicated answer for troubling behavior they see in their children:

“Why won’t my 6-year-old daughter go to bed at night?”

“Why is my teen son so far behind in his schoolwork?”

“Why doesn’t my daughter ever stop arguing?”

In most situations, the reason a child engages in — and CONTINUES to engage in — any of these behaviors is not all that complex. There is a payoff for the child, some REWARD for the negative behavior. In other words, the behavior WORKS.

Why does 2-year-old Joshua whine so much? The answer is because whining works in Joshua’s family. When a 5-year-old picky eater says she hates pork chops and broccoli and gets macaroni and cheese instead, she learns that complaining about food works for her. A 10-year-old ignores his parents when they tell him to stop playing VIDEO games because he knows that he can keep playing for another 30 minutes before things get serious. Ignoring his parents works for him.

It’s true for older kids, too. Over time, teens learn that if they wear headphones in the car, Mom won’t ask if they’ve finished a science project. They learn that if they stay up late on Friday and sleep in late on Saturday, they can avoid cleaning the garage. Or that if they make a big mess fixing a sandwich, Mom might make the NEXT sandwich for them.

It can be a difficult concept for parents to swallow, but children misbehave because, in their home, it simply works. So it makes sense that one of the most important strategies in wise, effective parenting is to make sure that our kids’ poor choices stop paying off, either by removing that payoff directly or by creating consequences that make the reward too expensive to be worthwhile.

Removing the payoff

Sometimes you can easily spot what a child gains from a certain behavior. YOUR toddler asks for orange juice or another snack by whining. The whining is exhausting, so you pour her a glass of juice or get her some more crackers. The toddler has, once again, been reinforced to whine.

Every time a behavior is rewarded, it deepens the child’s ongoing perception that this behavior works. Even an occasional negative consequence won’t change the behavior because whining is still mostly being positively reinforced. Undoing a learned, reinforced behavior takes persistence. To do this, you must COMPLETELY remove whining as an effective tactic. The difficult process of kids successfully relearning these kinds of demands is best achieved through consistency.

Other times, the payoff may not be obvious to our adult way of thinking. For example, eye contact is a huge REWARDfor preschoolers. So is physical comfort and convincing a parent to stop giving another child attention. Consider a mother who is shopping with her two children. Justin, the 5-year-old, may think that Lisa, the 3-year-old, is getting too much attention. Justin realizes that this attention may stop if he lags behind or wanders away. He’s right. Justin wanders off, and the attention stops going to Lisa.

This mother’s challenge is to keep Justin with her without rewarding him with extra comfort and attention when he wanders off. She might simply take his hand and place it on the cart each time he STARTS to lag behind. She could also establish a system where the child doesn’t get dessert at dinner that evening if he doesn’t behave while shopping. Whatever small payoff the child receives from misbehaving may still remain, but the child eventually learns that, overall, it is too expensive to be worth the reward.

The bedtime blues

In many homes, bedtime is a good place for parents to start the process of removing REWARDS for a child’s misbehavior. Kids are geniuses at figuring out how to extend bedtime another half-hour or so, and parents are often no match for a creative kid who has nothing better to do than to try to get some extra needs and wants met. Some of those payoffs are obvious — a drink of water, another snack, another hug. But remember that attention and eye contact are also rewards in a child’s economy. Kids can be motivated simply by engagement.

A strategy called “the invisible game” WORKS well with some kids to eliminate excessive bedtime stalling. This involves the house functioning exactly as though the child had gone to bed. Go through the normal pre-bedtime rituals of eating a snack, brushing teeth, reading a book, tucking in, saying prayers, and so on. You can also thwart some foreseeable stall tactics by having them go to the bathroom or get a drink of water before bedtime. Remember to remove toys, gadgets and other distractions. But after you’ve said “good night,” leave the ROOM for the evening.

From this moment on, your child is invisible. If the child calls out, ignore her. If the child comes out of her bedroom, don’t look at her. You can go through some email, read a magazine or book, straighten up the kitchen — all without looking at the child or responding to any question or ACTIVITY by the child. It is important that all this is done with no emotion, approval or disapproval. If you say anything, it should be straightforward and said without eye contact: “I can’t talk to you now. You’re not supposed to be up.”

This simple, silent plan often solves the problem of bedtime. If it doesn’t work the first time, don’t worry. Just regroup with the added wisdom — and try again the following night.

Mired in the motives

Many parents fall into the trap of focusing too much on the child’s motives. In our efforts to understand the child’s REWARD for poor choices, we sometimes obscure the misbehavior itself. For example, innocently asking the child, “Why are you doing this?” can shift a conversation away from the important fact that a child has misbehaved. And, surprisingly, it can end up with the parent inadvertently making excuses for the child that will delay the child’s growth.

Imagine you have a teen daughter who just got a SPEEDING TICKET. You ask her why she was speeding, and she says she was speeding because you forgot to wake her or that she was late because you were asking about her plans after SCHOOL. Whatever her responses, they will most likely be the ones that work to get her out of as much trouble as possible. It might be a tearful, “I am so sorry.” She may not even know why she was speeding — sometimes there simply isn’t a logical explanation — so our very question may prompt her to make up an answer. All we need to understand is that driving fast is a behavior that has worked in some way for this daughter, and that all the extra dialogue JUST CLOUDSthe lesson. It’s a bit like looking at a bucket of mud after we have stirred it — when just moments ago it was clear water.

At this point, you might be thinking, How can I REMOVE the payoff for poor behavior if I don’t seek to understand what that payoff is? Depending on the infraction, it’s not always necessary to figure out those DETAILS. We just need to make the unacceptable behavior more costly than whatever the payoff is. For the son who has a habit of kicking the dining room chairs, losing his video game system or favorite toy for a couple days could quickly extinguish the chair kicking. It simply has to be a little too costly for the child to engage in the negative behavior.

Asking YOUR son, your spouse, your friends from church or a psychologist why your son likes to kick the chair would most likely START you down a complicated road that may take you so far from the issue that you never find your way back. All you really need to understand is the simple fact that the behavior is WORKING in some way. Your son kicks the chair because it gets him the effect he is looking for, maybe hurting his parents’ feelings or getting him out of a boring dinner conversation. These could all be REWARDS in a child’s economy. But those details ultimately don’t matter. Our focus must be on simply ensuring that kicking chairs doesn’t work anymore.

Decide what rules you will follow in your home and how your home will efficiently respond when those rules are ignored. You can often resist the temptation to wonder where the misbehavior is coming from and just calmly make it costly for him to do that. The problem behavior probably didn’t START overnight, and it doesn’t need to end overnight. The consequence just needs to be costly enough to extinguish the unacceptable behavior.

Preparation for the real world

As adults, we live in the same world we are preparing our children for. And we recognize certain costs of reality that our kids are just beginning to understand. For example, after bouncing a CHECK or two, or getting late fees on a credit card, we simply learn that the costs of some behaviors are too high to be worth it. Interestingly, our motives — the why we did something — are usually not part of these exchanges. Most likely, none of us have ever received a parking TICKET that asked why we were parked there so long. Nor have we received an email from our local library asking if we had a rough week and a good reason for not returning the video. As a result of why being out of the picture, a BEAUTIFULenvironment exists for growth. We commit an infraction, and we receive a reasonable consequence, and there’s no unnecessary drama.

Hopefully, this is all good news. If your child is exhibiting problem behaviors, the hardest step might be acknowledging that, most likely, this behavior has somehow been rewarded and reinforced. No committed parent deliberately tries to create a home atmosphere that REWARDS whining or arguing or kicking. But the NEXT step is worth getting to: Many problem behaviors can be eliminated without prolonged analysis or digging into motives. We just need to hit “reboot” and make sure that negative, disruptive behavior is not only no longer rewarded, but also receives a consistent, commensurate cost.

This isn’t easy. But it’s likely easier in the long run. Understanding a child’s economy of rewards — and responding calmly to him or her with consistent responses — can actually extinguish the larger problem behaviors that have stressed or strained the relationship between the child and parents.

Michael Anderson is a licensed psychologist who has spent 30 years STUDYING the ways kids grow up. Timothy Johanson is a pediatrician with a deep commitment to helping parents find better ways to support their children’s development.

This article first appeared in the April/May 2016 issue of Thriving Family magazine. If you enjoyed this article, read MORE like it in Thriving Family, a MARRIAGE and parenting magazine published by Focus on the Family. Get Thriving Family delivered to YOUR home by subscribing to it for a gift of any amount.

Modern Day Idols

The Bible is not short on stories of worshipping false idols and gods, but it seems so foreign to us. We do not erect golden calves in our yards or worship little “g” gods, so it is seemingly easy for us to escape disobeying the first of commandments, “You shall have no other gods before me.” We proclaim, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” It appears to be a piece of cake to uphold commandment number one, well, until you look up the word god with a lowercase “g” and it means idol.

Idol [ahyd-l] noun:

  1. an image or other material object representing a deity to which religious worship is addressed.
  2. Bible. an image of a deity other than God or the deity itself.
  3. any person or thing regarded with blind admiration, adoration, or devotion:
  4. a mere image or semblance of something, visible but without substance, as a phantom.
  5. a figment of the mind; fantasy.
  6. a false conception or notion; fallacy.

If we read the first two definitions, we would usually still be innocent of idolatry, but there are four more definitions. This is where I get tripped up.

Recently a friend shared a testimony of the healing and restoration God has done in her family. Her testimony started with her earliest childhood memories of abuse and her desire for a family. It reminded me of my own lifelong desire for family. I had not thought about that in a long time since I now have a husband and five children. It helped me hear that someone else from an abusive family had the same desire, it made it seem more normal. I am sure we are not the only ones either.  Have you realized how the enemy always wants us to think “we are the only one who (fill in the blank)?”

I did not think much more about it until the next day after I dropped off the last of the five kids for school on Monday morning.  I was driving home and as I thought about always wanting a family, the Lord, as only He can do, gently spoke to my heart, “You have made it an idol.”  Ouch!  He was right since childhood I had an idea of the family I wanted and it was the opposite of the family I had, which is not a good basis to define family. I was not wholeheartedly seeking Him and His desire for my family I was building my own, thank you very much!  You know what I was not doing such a good job.  Anytime we try to do it our way instead of His, well, it just does not go well.

Do not misunderstand, I was a believer, I went to church and took my kids to church. They went to Christian school, we prayed at home and listened to Christian radio. I did not totally turn my back on Him, I just did not seek Him fully for His vision or ideal of family. I inserted some bible verses in “my” plan, but that still did not make it His. Even the Christian parenting books I read did not dethrone my idolatry. It was so subtle I missed it until He gently convicted me.

Those who pay regard to vain idols
    forsake their hope of steadfast love. Jonah 2:8

I went home and began bible journaling while listening to worship music. I was quickly drawn away by a song and knew what I needed to do.  Repent!  So, on my knees, I repented for erecting “family” as an idol, for putting my desire for family above my desire for Him. I gave Him permission to build and keep my family as He saw fit. I would love to tell you that the angels were singing and I felt differently, but I did not.  Although, I did feel a weight lifted. This is going to be a process. Watching God transform what is now His to do what He saw from the beginning. My ways, plans, ideas and dreams will have to die and I will have to seek His heart for His. It is like giving God permission to release the wrecking ball.

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Image courtesy of Surachai at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I made my castle tall
I built up every wall
This is my kingdom and it needs to fall
Colton Dixon, More of You

There was no value in idolizing family, my version of family actually became my own worst enemy.  It is not enough or even biblical to do the opposite of what was done in our childhood.  It sets us up for judgement, idolatry, disappointment and lots of spinning our wheels.  

“If a daughter swings to the other end of the continuum and acts the opposite of her mother, she stands a good chance of creating the same dynamics that she’s trying so hard to avoid.  The key lies in finding a middle ground on which you can stand as a loving parent with your own values.”
Will I Ever Be Good Enough? Karyl McBride, Ph.D. page 125

We must seek Him for our family. He has things to say about abusive families, but He does not say do the opposite. He always gives it a more positive spin.  

He who fears the Lord has a secure fortress,and for his children it will be a refuge.
Proverbs 14:26

My people will abide in a peaceful habitation, in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places. Isaiah 32:18

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Image courtesy of Stoonn at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.
Psalm 127:1

Is there something in your life or heart that is held just a little higher than the place the Father holds? Would you be willing to give it to Him and let Him be your only God?  Would you be willing to trust Him with the results? He already knows if there is, but still wants us to humbly come and confess.

Father, thank You that You are a jealous God and You will not share us with our carefully erected and protected idols. You gently and lovingly guide us back to Your will and plan for us.  We can take You at Your word and trust You to perform it.  Amen.

Prayers For Mothers

prayer-1308663_1280PRAYERS FOR MOTHERS

by Chris Ann Waters

For You created my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb.

Psalm 139:14

Lord Jesus, we pray for mothers who chase curious toddlers around backyards, grocery stores, and hide-in-seek spots.

Lord Jesus, we pray for mothers who sit at the side of sons and daughters in hospitals, chemotherapy treatments, dentist chairs, and psychiatry sessions.

Lord Jesus, we pray for mothers who juggle peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, soccer schedules, laptop computers, and laptop bedtime stories.

Lord Jesus, we pray for the mothers who pray for their prodigal sons and daughters.

Lord Jesus, we pray for mothers with children who cannot find their homework.

Lord Jesus, we pray for mothers who cannot find their children.

Lord Jesus, we pray for mothers in the military who skype their children to bed.

Lord Jesus, we pray for mothers with sons and daughters in the military who do not have a bed.

Lord Jesus, we pray for the mothers who raise children to pray, read, laugh, and walk the dog.

Lord Jesus, we pray for the mothers-to-be who want to raise children.

Lord Jesus, we pray for mothers who hide their children in dark places for fear of capture.

Lord Jesus, we pray for mothers who run on the beach with their children in freedom.

Lord Jesus, we pray for mothers who have aborted children for reasons You know and ask You to be close to them.

Lord Jesus, we pray for mothers who grieve the loss of a child to death, disagreement or disillusionment.

Lord Jesus, we pray for mothers in their December season with bodies stiller now.

Lord Jesus, we pray for mothers who are ill in body, mind or spirit.

Lord Jesus, we pray for mothers who have mothered and have returned Home to You.

Lord Jesus, we pray for children of every age who have no mother.

Lord Jesus, we pray for children of every age who have a mother.

Lord Jesus, Thank You for answering prayers as only You can.  By faith, we anticipate Your loving answers.  In Thy Name, Lord Jesus, Amen.

10 Truths For Moms

With Mother’s Day around the corner, I thought I’d write a few truths we moms often forget. I pray you are encouraged and reminded that there is no one like you, you are enough, and that despite the hard places along the journey, you are an irreplaceable part of God’s design for your family.

1—There is no one who can parent your child better than you.

Your kids don’t need a perfect mom; they need a real mom. Or in my 9-year-old daughter’s words:FullSizeRender

Comparing yourself to others is a defeating trap—No one has it all together no matter how it may seem. Learn from other moms who do something well, but don’t think they could do a better job with your children than you can. God makes no mistakes and He gave your children the best mom ever.

2—You cannot assume all the credit for your child’s success or all the guilt for their failure.

God was a perfect parent raising His children in a perfect environment and Adam and Eve were still rebellious. A fallen world and free will guarantees there will be poor decisions that are made. We can do our best to sow in God’s word, water it in your children’s hearts, diligently pluck out the weeds that spring up, and then trust God for the outcome.

3—Great lovers make great parents.

Keep your spouse in his rightful first place and everyone thrives. This doesn’t mean you can ignore the urgent things of being a mom, but you can’t let them replace the more important things of being a wife. Give your children the gift of a mom who loves their dad even more than them. My parents modeled this well and it gave me greater security than anything else in the world. During the most turbulent years of my life, the fact that nothing I did could shake their love for one another held me steady and saw me through.

4—Your beauty is not measured by the scale or the latest fashions, but by the kindness and love you display.

Your children will likely never tell their own children one day how much they liked your hair. However, they will tell them about how you stopped what you were doing and looked them in the eye when they had a story to tell. They will recount how you used to lay in bed with them and whisper about the day.

1 Peter 3:3-4 (ESV) reminds us, “ Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear, but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.” While I’m not recommending that we pay no attention to our outward appearance, I do think we must be sure it takes a backseat to the issues of the heart.

5—Raising holy children is more important than raising happy children.

The first will lead to the last, but the last will not lead to the first. There are more gadgets and opportunities today than ever to eat up our time and our attention, and your children will convince you that they need them all in order to be happy. Don’t buy it (literally)!

Happiness cannot be achieved with more things or more activities. Remember that true joy can only be found in serving God and serving others. That won’t happen miraculously when they are adults if you have not purposed to lay the foundation now. Teaching them to Invest in eternal rewards and in people will always reap a greater blessing than investing in more stuff.

6—Self-care is not selfish.

Properly caring for your body means you can more properly care for your family. A mama is supposed to be like fresh water pouring into her family, but she can’t do that from a dry well. This doesn’t mean a daily spending spree at the mall or weekly spa treatments. It means taking the time to nurture and care for your own heart, mind, and body. Eating well, getting adequate sleep and exercise, and spending time in activities that rejuvenate you are vital for both you and your family.

7—You cannot do it all and that’s okay.

The laundry will never be done, the floors will always need to be vacuumed. This is not a reflection on your parenting. Productiveness as a mom cannot be measured by a to-do list but by the silent unseen sacrifices for the sake of those you love.

When you are feeling like what you do doesn’t matter, remember this from Andy Stanley:

“You greatest contribution to the kingdom of God may not be something you do but someone you raise.”13166076_10209419439273723_1325231446447934723_n

8—You are not invisible.

God sees you and all your sacrifices even if it seems no one else does. Those rainy day snuggles with the same book, the 1000th peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and the umpteenth time you’ve kissed an imaginary boo-boo will reap a harvest one day.

All those ordinary moments that seem so insignificant will one day string together to make an extraordinary life.

9—Prayer fixes a multitude of sins.

The word says, “Love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). It is God’s love for us that prompts Him to hear our prayers and move on our behalf. Are you blowing it? He knows, and He’s not moved to condemnation but compassion. Ask Him to fill in the gaps and cover all your sins and He will be faithful to do it.

What is it you’re in need of? Do you need wisdom? Ask Him and He promises to give it “liberally and without reproach” (James 1:5). Are you scared for a wayward child? Ask Him to protect your child and to give you a “word fitly spoken” (Proverbs 25:11) when the opportunity arises. Pray for and over your children believing that we do not have because we do not ask (James 4:2).

10—It’s never too late!

No matter where you are in the process, so long as there is a breath to be taken, God is at work. If your family has fallen apart and in need of repair, I have good news for you: Every family is a fixer-up family and God is in the construction and remodeling industry. There is no problem so big that God cannot solve it.

His redemptive work on the cross stretched behind and ahead, so we should expect no less from Him in our families. What has fallen into decay, given to Him, He can rebuild. What Satan has robbed, He can restore. What we have torn down, He can redeem. He is the great rebuilder, restorer, redeemer, and He waits for us to hand him the ashes of our lives so that he can give us beauty in return.

What other truths have you learned along the way? I hope you’ll scroll down and share them.

 

Out of Hiding

What a blessing to be sharing on Mothers with a Mission.  I am daughter of the Most High God, wife to Michael and mom to five awesome kids.  I am passionate about my faith.  I am also a writer, artist and transformation specialist.  When I am not here you can find the more eclectic side of me at www.thesalvagedpeach.com.

Image courtesy of stockimages at freedigitalphotos.net

“Come out of hiding
You’re safe here with Me
There’s no need to cover
What I already see

You’ve got your reasons
But I hold your peace
You’ve been on lockdown
And I hold the key”Steffany Gretzinger, Out of Hiding

Hide and seek is a popular children’s game where players hide while one or two people seek to find them.  As a child I do not remember playing the game much, but I became an expert at hiding.  In my earliest relationships I was often criticized for my feelings, put down and even dismissed.  That taught me that being found or noticed was not safe, but hiding was.

Two years ago at a women’s meeting someone led a devotional on doubt.  I remember the question, “What do you do when you doubt?”  I began sobbing quietly to myself because the answer for me came so quick and so clear, “I HIDE!”  I would like to say that I was already aware of that, but it was truly a startling revelation.  Since then other ways that I hide have been exposed leaving me feeling vulnerable and unsafe, nowhere to run nowhere to hide, so to speak.

Last year I heard an eight year old girl sing the song quoted above and as I type this now that was appropriate for what God was whispering to my heart.  He was beckoning me to come out of a lifetime of hiding.  He saw all the fear, doubt, regret, guilt, shame, contempt and pain, but gently reminded me that I do not have to hide it from Him.  He knew all the reasons I hid, but wanted to offer me peace. He wanted to give me the key to break me out of the prison I had lived in most of my life.

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?
Psalm 139:7

I do not know about you, but once God illuminates something unhealthy in my life it becomes very uncomfortable to live with it.  I believe that is by His design.  He does not want us miserable, but He does want us free.  We were created to be FREE.  I could tell you that I have completely overcome this, but I have not.  I am still working on it and God is still working with me.  It is still terrifying at times. Even this morning I prayed, “Lord, I am afraid to trust you in this area, but I am going to anyway.”  I believe He honors that.

One thing about overcoming anything, we cannot do it alone.  God has put people in my life in this season in the most unexpected ways.  Their words, their hopes and dreams, their struggles cause my spirit to come alive to HOPE and DREAM and OVERCOME.  I feel these relationships give my spirit the wings it needs to fly right now.

“I am one who would rather hide my brokenness, hide the lamp that is less than sufficient.  But just like with my house, I feel God pushing me a little bit to embrace my broken places and appreciate my weaknesses as much as I appreciate my strengths.”
– Annie F. Downs, Looking for Lovely

Do you hide?  What do you hide from?  Are you hiding from God, relationships or dreams? Have you had a victory in this area of hiding?  Please share your stories. Testimonies are the fuel we need as busy moms who sometimes feel alone, hopeless or discouraged.

Father, when we hide You pursue, thank you for not leaving us hidden, but bringing us into your marvelous light.  Give us the courage to take that first step.  Amen.

Steffany Gretzinger sang Out of Hiding over people she loved that were in a hard place,but this is the heart of the Father singing over you.

Please take a moment to watch this video: