Written by Christine Jordan, EdS, LMFT
At the end of a stressful day, I found myself standing over the kitchen sink whispering to my dirty dishes, "My kid is driving me crazy!" As the parent of a 6-year-old daughter, I often think this or even say it out loud. However, when I reach this level of frustration, I know it's a sign to look deeper into my child's behavior.
In their parenting method, "Positive Discipline," Jane Nelson and Lynn Lott teach that a misbehaving child is trying to tell us something important. Misbehavior is not the sign of a bad child. It is the sign of a discouraged child. A discouraged child wants to feel like an important part of the family, just as we as adults want to feel important. However, the discouraged child does not yet have the skills to get what he or she wants in a socially acceptable way. The misbehaving child is saying, "I need your help."
A common behavior shown by many children is interrupting. On the surface, we see this behavior as rude and impatient. It makes us feel annoyed and we wish it would stop. If we look at this child through the perspective of being discouraged, we find a child who wants attention. He does not have acceptable skills to get the attention he wants. With any misbehavior, think of yourself as a code breaker. Try to break the code to discover the unmet needs behind the misbehavior.
Once we understand our child's unmet needs, we can discipline in a way that allows us to teach and connect with out child. If we consider the following principles of effective discipline, we tend to be more successful as parents.
- Be kind and firm at the same time. Kindness shows children we respect them. Firmness shows children they need to respect us as parents and what we need to do to be effective parents.
- Create a sense of belonging for your child. Effective discipline helps kids feel important in the family. Take time to listen to your child and hear his or her perspective. A child is more likely to listen to you after he feels heard and understood.
- Use what works for the long-term. Punishment is effective for the short-term. Discipline that is effective long-term helps create connections between children and parents.
- Teach valuable social and life skills. Effective discipline helps children learn important skills in problem solving, communication, listening and self-soothing.
To apply these principles to the interrupting child, talk to your child about his behavior. Choose a time when you are both calm and not upset or angry. When you talk with your child, first listen to his perspective and feelings. He might express his need for attention from you. Together, come up with a plan as to how you will both handle interrupting. Create a nonverbal signal that lets your child know you will acknowledge him when you are finished talking. Help your child problem solve about how he can wait patiently. Plan special time together as part of your normal routine. After some practice by you and your child, he will feel encouraged and will not need to misbehave in this way.