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.

Burning Red-Hot Anger

I am so grateful to have Jessica Lederer share on here today. Jessica is a gem. She is a beautiful and sincere woman, wife, mother, and friend. So I was thrilled when she accepted my invitation to post for Mothers With a Mission. She shares openly what most are afraid to speak of, and I know you’ll appreciate her candidness and transparency.

12363267_10153687550415734_377748452145311748_oI consider myself a blessed mother of 5 amazing children. My oldest will be 8 in a couple short weeks and my youngest celebrated a year of life on the outside on Christmas Eve. Life is chaotic, messy, unpredictable, and a hoot everyday.

BUT there are some days when burning, red-hot anger explodes from inside like a volcano and all I can do is holler at the bystanders to take cover. The kind that makes my kids call me “Hulk Momma”! Can you imagine! THIS has been one of those weeks!

Coincidentally (NOT) I am doing a Beth Moore Bible study called The Patriarchs. Wanna know what we are talking about–BURNING RED-HOT ANGER. Day 1 was Judah and David’s burning anger. It may surprise you to know they were burning with anger at their own sin; they just didn’t know it yet. Conviction? You bet!

The Bible talks of God’s refining fire and how He uses it to purify us and test us. Praise GOD my faith has proved steadfast, but unfortunately sometimes so does what He is trying to purify me of! That leads to the flame burning hotter. Unlike the LORD’s refining fire, my burning is the farthest thing from purifying as possible, no matter what I tell myself in the heat of the moment!

My burning is a rage I didn’t even know was possible! Any others out there know what I mean? It is what only those closest to me get to witness. It is shameful and NEEDS Jesus! Most of the time it comes from a place of a loss of control. It is never necessary but somehow I can’t get myself to CLOSE MY MOUTH.

In sharing my battle with other moms, I’ve found that despite the enemy convincing us we’re the “only ones”, many moms routinely fight their anger.

So what do we do when those situations occur? Well I can tell you what I do.

PRAY. PRAY. PRAY. HUMBLE. HUMBLE. HUG. KISS. LOVE. APOLOGIZE. PRAY. PRAY. PRAY.

  • Pray for the Lord to forgive me. Confess what I’ve done.
  • Pray for the words to speak and that The Father would stand in the gap and cover my loved ones from the repercussions of my sin.
  • Pray for the Lord to convict my spirit and allow correction.
  • Humble myself and go to those I’ve hurt and without rationalizing or explaining, just ask for their forgiveness.
  • HUGS and KISSES and I’m sorrys. LOTS of hugs and kisses.
  • PRAY some more. Ask for a Word, a promise, something to hold onto when life gets me red-hot.
  • Believe the LORD for the forgiveness He has given me, accept His Grace, and His Help.

Sometimes the circumstances may seem like they justify the outburst but believe me there is a better way. One day I will find my way there every time, but for now I’m still on the journey. Oh how I pray to be more tender and gentle! Especially with my little ones. I hope it encourages you in your journey to know that you are not alone if you have ever had “that moment”.

Let’s pray for each other whether this is you or not. Let’s ask the LORD to help us. You may not know the name of the momma you are praying for but the LORD does!

James 1:19-20 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,  because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.

 

5 Tips For Becoming The Mother You Want To Be

Being a mother is a beautiful gift that can bring joy and fulfillment to our lives. Sometimes, though, we let the burdens and failures of motherhood make us feel inadequate and guilty. We get caught up in the fact that we don’t measure up or that others are doing a “better job,” and we can become critical of our efforts.

It’s okay. We’re all in the same boat here.

My sister has a magnet on her refrigerator that sums up how I’ve often felt. It says:

pabloLet’s face it—parenting is easy until we have kids. Once we do, we realize how little we know and wonder if we’ll ever figure it out.

As we head into the new year, please take a minute to remind yourself that you love your children more than anyone else could and that you are enough for them. Settle that first.

Then, we can look for areas we’d like to improve. And it’s never too late. Whether our kids are adults or are still in the baby stage, there is always hope.

So here are 5 tips to help on your road to being the mom you want to be.

1—Pray. This is my starting point for everything. I have 4 children, two of whom are adults, and I still find myself wondering what in the world I’m doing most of the time. I ask God regularly for ways I can improve and He is good at whispering His ideas into my mind throughout the day. He promises to give us His wisdom generously and “without finding fault,” (James 1:5). But He won’t intrude, so you have to invite Him.

2—Focus on one area you’d like to improve. Just one. Let’s say you’d like to have more fun with your kids. Maybe you could take an hour one day a week to go to a park or playground, or maybe take 20 minutes a few times a week to play a favorite board game. Once you feel you’re doing well in this area, then focus on the next. Tackling more than this can be overwhelming and defeating.

3—Find a mentor and learn from her. I have always enjoyed time with moms more experienced than me. It has helped me find ways to deal with challenges, and it has offered me hope to know that the “great moms” I look up to mess up also. One thing to keep in mind though is that you are you. You can benefit from the advice of experienced moms and learn from their mistakes, but take what suits your personality and parenting style without trying to be someone you’re not.

4—Take time every day to connect with your child emotionally. Hugs, smiles, and relaxed chitchat do wonders for our relationships. We never have to look very hard for opportunities to “train” our children, which means we are likely either telling them what to do or correcting them for what they didn’t do. Every moment can become an exercise in “character development”, which to them may translate into criticism.

During those times, my son used to give me this advice (which made me want to pinch his lips shut at the time, and still does actually). It was simply, “Chill Out Mom”—GRRRR! It was so annoying, but it was also great advice.

5—Have regular family meetings. Children often feel like they don’t have a voice about all the things that concern them. If there are regular times to come together to talk about what needs to be different and what is working, then everyone feels more valued. Teamwork is established and the family becomes a unit rather than the “parents against the kids” mentality and vice versa. My only advice here is to establish rules of respect. It can’t be a bash session on anyone, but rather a time of open communication where everyone feels safe to share without criticism or anger, whether they are agreed with or not. These times of sharing give great insight into your children’s hearts as well as communicate to them their importance.

Remember that failure is an integral part of the journey to any success. Parenting is no different, so look at failures as opportunities and let them teach you, not paralyze you. As we enter the new year, I hope you will embrace motherhood without fear of failure but instead with the expectation of becoming more like the mother you always wanted to be.

Happy New Year!

I’d love to hear from you. What is it you think you do best as a mother? What do you know you need to work on?

 

 

 

10 Do’s and Don’ts When Your Child (Or Teen) Is Angry–Part 2

thumb_IMG_4772_1024One of the most critical tasks we have as parents is to teach our children to handle life’s wounds and injustices (real or perceived) in healthy ways rather than with reactive emotions. By teaching this vital skill, we help ensure healthier relationships as they become better equipped to handle conflict constructively.

Unfortunately, it is far too easy to allow our children’s emotional eruptions to push our buttons, causing us to meet their anger with our own rather than with compassion and love.

In part 1, we talked about 5 things not to do when your child is angry (Click to read part 1). This time let’s look at 5 things we can do that will help our children and us get through a meltdown a little more effectively:

1—Do acknowledge your child’s feelings and be empathetic. Validating your child’s feelings doesn’t mean you are saying he is right. It is simply letting him know you understand and care. It just as easy to say, “I understand how hurt you are and I’m sorry, ” as it is to say, “What’s your problem? You’re making a big deal out of nothing.” The first builds trust while the latter builds defenses.

2—Do establish boundaries for behavior and consequences for ignoring them. Being upset can not be used as an excuse for poor behavior. While we have to set the example of grace and compassion when tensions run high, we cannot allow our children be abusive to things or people. In our family, it is not okay to call names, hit anyone or anything, or break things. Respect for people and property is still a must and ignoring that comes at a cost. Better to learn that in the safe environment of home than the larger context outside of it.

3—Do talk with your child when things have settled and apologize if you mishandled the situation. Take the opportunity to teach that emotions are important and that even as adults we have to work at sharing them in healthy ways. We want to avoid the extremes of either burying them or puking them all over people. The first destroys you, while the latter destroys others.

4—Do spend lots of time enjoying your child. A filled up emotional tank goes a long way toward preventing and diffusing over-the-top emotions. I find that when I’m the busiest and need the most cooperation is when things are most apt to go haywire. That’s because children just need us. Give them plenty of what they need and they will more likely do the same.

5—Do keep the goal in sight and pray for the road to be smooth. Remember that our goal is not to have perfectly behaved children who make us feel like, and look like, good parents. Our goal is to train up healthy, well-adjusted adults who love and serve others. That doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a journey, but one that lots of love and a good measure of consistency makes considerably more enjoyable.

Mamas, we’re not perfect and we won’t get it right every time, but with a little intentionality and a lot of prayer, we can enjoy the fruits of watching our children manage their emotions in ways that deepen, not destroy, relationships.

You are not alone! I am praying for you, and if you let me know specific needs I will lift each of them personally. Hugs Mamas. You are doing a tough job and it is all worth it!

For Deeper Reflection:

As I said, this was an area of struggle for me. It wasn’t until I began to sow the word of God in my heart that true transformation took place. I hope you don’t mind if I share some of them with you here. Perhaps they’ll do the same for you.

Ephesians 4:26 In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.

James 1:19-20 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.

Proverbs 14:29 (NLT) People with understanding control their anger; a hot temper shows great foolishness.

Proverbs 15:1 A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

Proverbs 15:18 A hot-tempered person stirs up conflict, but the one who is patient calms a quarrel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Ultimate Parenting Resource

The day was long and the night promised to be longer as I lay sobbing quietly next to my husband. I dared not wake him, afraid I’d have to confess the failed day with our son—a day of constant scolding and crying and putting division between his young heart and my own.

Eventually I rose, as I always did in such defeated moments, to scan the shelves for the perfect parenting book that would give me my next plan. As I stood bleary-eyed and hopeless, I uttered, more to myself than anyone else, “I need help.”

FullSizeRender-2Through the shadows of both the night and my own condemning heart, light penetrated with the words, “Ask Me.” I was not familiar then with “the still small voice” of God as I was rarely quiet long enough to hear it, but in that moment, I knew He had heard my pathetic plea and answered.

Although I’d cried without expectation, although I’d spent those early mothering years determined to do it my way, and although I rarely gave God the crumbs of my day let alone the first, He was there.

Psalm 145:18 promises, “The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.” The truth was, I was weary and out of resources and in that great place of weakness, I was finally able to hear the treasures He longed to share, the insights on my child that only He could reveal as the ultimate parenting resource.

As I sat in silence before Him, His answer to my heart was simple. My son didn’t need a new game plan. He didn’t need more discipline or less structure. He simply needed eye-to-eye, hand-in-hand attention periodically throughout the day. That revelation changed our relationship instantly and forever. I learned that a hug was often all it took to diffuse a meltdown, and that a snuggle together with a book could transform a negative spirit for the rest of the day. God knew and now I knew simply by asking.

My son has since gone off to college, but I have three other children behind him that I still need personal guidance for. Sadly, I am often too self-reliant and have to be brought back to that night.

Through it, I am reminded that although there are many authors who know a great deal about children in general, only the author of my children knows them specifically. There are great books, many that have provided me with timely and wise advice, but my Father in heaven was and is the authority on my children, and He will never refuse to give me wisdom and direction when I ask for it.

I don’t know whether you believe in such a personal God, but I challenge you to test His word in James 1:5 which says “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” (NIV) He cares for you and your children, and you can trust every word He says.

This task of parenting is often a challenging and frightening one. I hope you know I’m on your side and that I have prayed for you today to find the answers you need that will bring peace and joy to your home. God Bless You!