Parenting Through Problem Behavior
Scenario: Your son is 17. You take a trip together as a family to another city to visit colleges. Your son is in a foul mood and is taking it out on you. You recognize that it’s just a low mood, but it’s wearing on your nerves. To him, you can do nothing right. He criticizes you, criticizes your driving, and yaps at you for every move you make.
You try to remain calm, but eventually you snap and say something rude and nasty. At this point as you’re driving you’re ready to drop your son off on the side of the road and leave.
When you regain your composure and are in a better frame of mind you tell your son very directly:
“Michael, don’t you see what you’re doing to people? You keep calling us stupid drivers, but you were unwilling to drive. We don’t know where we’re going. We’ve never been here before. We’re trying to find our way around. It’s not so easy in a strange place. The idea is not to sit back and judge and criticize, but to enter the partnership with us so together we can figure out where we’re going and how to do it best. That’s how people help each other out.”
“Mom is about to leave here, and that will be all for this trip so if that’s what you really want, we can do that, but maybe, instead, you would be willing to commit yourself to treat us with respect for at least the rest of the trip? Do you accept that?”
Throughout the rest of the trip, if he slipped, you remind him of his commitment.
You’ll find that your son was most likely reacting out of fear. Scared about visiting colleges and the prospect of being far away from home. He’s taking it out on the place he feels safe- you. Whenever kids feel insecure about anything, they take it out on you.
What Is Problem Behavior? Or Bad Behavior?
Bad behavior is nothing more than people acting out of insecurity. When people lack understanding they tend to be more insecure. When people are in low moods, they tend to be more insecure. When people have organic problems that irritate the behavior center in the brain, they tend to get frightened and act out (these people may also lack more controls).
Since showing fear as a teenager is not cool, they act out.
It’s extremely important for parents to realize that everything we call “bad behavior” or “problem behavior”, “troubled behavior”, “troubling behavior”, boils down to people acting out of insecurity.
By acting in troublesome or troubling ways, kids aren’t trying to nail us or do something bad to us. They’re only acting out of insecurity. They’re frightened for some reason and at that time they don’t know any other way to be. The way they act at those times is the only thing that makes sense to them, and they may not have a clue why they’re dong it.
It’s the best they know how to do at the time.
Insecurity & Innocence
If every child is always doing the best she or he knows how at the time, given the way he/she sees things, children are acting out of innocence.
As well, we as parents are only doing the best we know how at the time. So we can relax a little and not take ourselves so seriously.
Children are not born with insecurity. It’s something they have to learn. Usually they learn it from us, then sometimes from their close relatives and caregivers, then from peers and school.
No one tries to teach insecurity. Yet, in our innocence we sometimes do and say things that contribute to it.
Children are born into a world filled with wonder. Everything is new. There are so many new things to see, smell, hear, taste, and a whole world to touch. It’s the greatest amusement park imaginable. If babies start to feel physically uncomfortable, they begin to cry.
The baby also learns that a cry will usually send a parent to the rescue, and that feels nice and secure.
When tiny newborns cry and we comfort them and give them understanding, and we keep doing that until one day our child is crying for a really long time, and we get irritated (because we’re in a low mood or we’re frightened because we don’t know what to do), and we may yap at the baby in a louder voice with an edge, and it scares her- then the cries become louder, and the cycle begins.
Unless babies learn insecurity quite early in abusive or neglectful homes, in most homes, they probably don’t learn much insecurity until they begin to move around.
Then they learn to crawl. Now they can get places, and suddenly their world expands. They can get into things.
When the crawler or toddler grabs certain items, the parents stop him and scold him, or sometimes slap him. The world has suddenly changed and he doesn’t understand it so well anymore. It’s confusing. It can be scary. Insecurity begins to creep in.
Then the child begins to talk and one day she opens her mouth at the wrong time, or says the wrong thing and suddenly it seems that, talking is no good and everything becomes confusing. Insecurity abounds.
Much insecurity seems to occur out of complete innocence, simply by what we learn as we grow. There is almost no way parents can avoid having their children develop some insecurities.
The more we can help them feel secure, however, despite the difficulties they get into, the better off they are. The better off we are.
Children act in any way that they think will make the fear and insecurity go away, only they’re not aware they’re thinking it.
The way kids act when they are insecure usually makes things worse. If our kids knew better, they would do better.
Problem Behavior:Insecurity as Thought
Behind all insecurity and problem behavior is thought. At the root lies thought. Thought can change. When kids are acting out, the key for parents is to realize how they are seeing their children at those times.
We could see the child as purposely giving us a hard time, or we could see him as insecure and just acting out his insecurity without knowing any other way to do it at the time.
If we see bad or problem behavior as willful, we tend to want to control and punish. If we see problem behavior as acting out of insecurity, we might ask ourselves how we can help take away his/her insecure thoughts.
Manifestations of Insecurity
Some kids have angry and violent responses. Some kids get sad and depressed. Some cheat and steal. Some yell and scream. Some get sneaky. Some take drugs and drink to excess. Some pick on others and do them harm. Some become sex abusers. Some kids grow up to physically or emotionally abuse their own kids or their spouses.
The reason? They’re all acting out of insecurity in their own ways. It’s not that they’re trying to be that way. They just don’t understand anything else. And I’m not excusing the behavior. I’m only talking about the way we see it.
What Do We Do As Parents?
How can we help our children understand at a deeper level what is going on to help them feel more secure?
The first thing is not to take personally what they’re doing. It’s got nothing to do with us. If we don’t take it personally we don’t need to react at that level.
The 2nd thing is we can take a look at how we may be passing on insecurity in our children.
When the child exhibits inappropriate or problem behavior, the essence of the child is not at fault, only his thinking is. Thoughts lead to the feelings that lead to the behaviors, that may lead us to have thoughts that make us react.
EX: If a parent harbors a strong belief that his children can’t be happy unless they’re more athletic, artistic, or educated, the parent unknowingly passes those beliefs on to the child in an overly concerned, and anxious way, which leads to insecurity. This child begins to think that his own well-being is contingent upon how well he does with respect to those “important things”. Then we get on him for not doing well.
Most people don’t respond well to threats. Threats are external motivators and they’re scary.
It’s natural for us to want our children to do well and succeed- but other ways of seeing it exist at other levels of consciousness.
We could encourage her to do better. Encourage her and let her know we really care.
We could help her see how her own wisdom could help her more.
Everyone is good at something. Maybe if she’s not good at this thing, she’ll develop other talents. Maybe she’ll draw from a different kind of intelligence.
Problem Behavior Summary:
First, we want to look at ourselves to be sure we are raising our kids in a way that passes on to them as few of our insecurities as possible.
Then, if confronted with a problem behavior, it’s most helpful to see it as insecurity instead of a personal attack or affront; that they’re lost and can’t see any better way at the time.
Seeing the behavior as insecurity will help us naturally respond in a more helpful way than seeing it as a willful, malicious act.
Seeing it as insecurity makes us somehow want to relieve that insecurity and help them see a better way.
Does this mean that we let them get away with everything? Absolutely not! It simply means if we see the child and the behavior differently, we will naturally react differently.