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Kids Misbehaving

A Cure For the Common Bad Attitude

Nothing in parenting remains the same from day to day — nothing except the presence of feelings! Feelings are part of life, part of being a child, and definitely part of parenting. Because your child is growing quickly, her feelings change from one moment to the next. That means your parenting solutions have to change, too.

Keep reading.

First-Time Experiences

Every day your child is having what I call "first-time experiences." She finds herself in new situations with no real experience or wisdom to deal with them. She isn't being "bad," she just isn't sure what to do. All she knows is she's been told she's wrong, and that frustrates her and causes big feelings.

Today's parents are having first-time experiences, too. An adult's life revolves around the fast pace of technology. Living at warp speed can cause you to feel overwhelmed from the minute you get up to the minute you go to sleep, and that can cause frustration and big feelings, too.


When both parent and child are frustrated and filled with big feelings, reactions occur. Both can resort to yelling, punishing, and threats to try to manage those feelings.

I know you've felt it, the longing for a better way to handle situations like these. You intuitively know there is one, but you don't have time to search for it. My tip today is a place to start; a place to go to when you find yourself headed toward reacting with anger to life's daily pressure, to big feelings, or to your child's behavior.

The Root of Misbehavior

Many parents answered Lisa A.'s Circle of Moms post, "9-year-olds and attitudes," in which she asks for advice on dealing with her son's "stomping, talking back, and constantly arguing." I'm not sure there's just one answer that works for all children, of all ages, but this tip is a good place to begin:

When a child misbehaves, or cops an attitude, most parents tend to deal with the child's behavior or the attitude that was produced. But those things are actually the end result.

What parents have forgotten is that each bit of misbehavior or attitude has its roots in feelings that have gone unnoticed, unchecked, or unacknowledged. Unacknowledged or unexpressed feelings grow and grow until they blossom into misbehavior or an attitude. So what's a parent to do?

Rewinding the Video

A good place to begin is to "rewind the video." No matter what's happened. You'll need to take a breath and imagine that you've rewound the video to the beginning of the situation that has occurred. Now begin to ask your child some questions about what she was feeling at the beginning of the situation, before the incident occurred. The questions need to be asked in a genuine, loving, and calm way, and then the parent needs to be silent and wait for the child to answer.

When a child is asked a question that's followed by silence, the pressure for someone to speak fills the room. If you say anything instead of being calm and silent you run the risk of igniting a reaction. However, if you remain calm and loving, whatever it was that went unexpressed, and that led to the misbehavior or attitude problem, usually comes rolling out.

You want to ask questions like, "What didn't you say?" or "What was your heart feeling?" or "What made you mad?" and then stay silent and calm until your child tells you what's at the root of the behavior.

Since you now remember that your child is simply having a first-time experience you'll find you're more willing to teach what needs to be learned about the situation, rather than reflexively yelling, punishing, or threatening.

There's another benefit to going silent after you've asked a question: silence tends to keep you calm, which helps neutralize any frustration or reactions you were about to have.

In this fast-paced world where things change from one minute to the next, this is a tip that will help resolve feelings — even if the feelings change five times during the conversation.

Sharon Silver is a parenting educator and the founder of Proactive Parenting. She's also the author of Stop Reacting and Start Responding: 108 Ways to Discipline Consciously and Become the Parent You Want to Be.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, POPSUGAR.

Image Source: Shutterstock
Join The Conversation
JulieSullivan3861 JulieSullivan3861 5 years
This is very good advice and something I desperately need to use right now.
CoMMember1360899288326 CoMMember1360899288326 5 years
I've never needed to punish my son. Once I identify the root cause of the behaviour with him, it usually stops anyway. When he's feeling overwhelmed he needs me to be calm, respectful and model calm for him. I give him strong boundaries and I don't take any shit from him but what is misbehaviour anyway? Misfired behaviour? I'd much rather have a great and respectful relationship than have him scared to talk to me because I blame him for upsetting me. I misbehave sometimes and usually it's not on purpose. If someone punished me for that I'd never speak to them again. Obviously I know the rules of the world and expect punishment from the police and the law but not the people who are supposed to love me. What if your child is trying to test the boundaries? If they are trying to smash through them, they must be pretty rigid? We say No so much and I try to say yes when I can. I'm no pushover and my son is smart, resilient, respectful, kind, full of empathy and does the right thing because it's the right thing to do and not because he's scared of me taking something away from him or punishing him. I totally agree with Sharon and my experience with LOTS of kids in schools, counselling, courses, families and friends has proven to me that if you listen then kids will talk and tell the truth and not be scared and not lie. This is not a touchy feely way to parent, it's assertive and self-responsible for everyone. Try it, you might be surprised. Read Parent Effectiveness Training and How to Talk So Kids Will Listen. In almost all of my courses where children are misbehaving, the root problem is really simple and many parents make it worse without meaning to by applying a punitive approach too soon. It's a much kinder way to parent and kids will respond when they feel valued and able to make mistakes.
JamiScanlan JamiScanlan 6 years
Although I agree it is important to always communicate with and respect our children, they need boundries!! How does this work for a 2 year old?? Or 3 year old?? This, in my oppinion, will not work at all for younger children. As they grow, then yes, try to get them to share their feelings.... but they still need to be punished for bad behavior.
JenniferKatona78530 JenniferKatona78530 6 years
Amen Fran!
JenniferKatona78530 JenniferKatona78530 6 years
Stacey - that was the best thing I've read in a 100 years!!!! I love it love it love it!!!!!!!!!!!! I wish you were my mom hahahahahaha
RaeMackinnonLittle RaeMackinnonLittle 6 years
Brilliant..that is sooo what it is about and as your children get bigger the same behavour will occur..always as the "big person" stop . breathe and listen to what your child is really trying to communicate
BrookeMezzetta BrookeMezzetta 6 years
I think this is a great tip but wonder when you ask your child, "what's making you mad?" and they respond by telling you that they want to watch tv (rather than eat dinner for example). Once you've explained that this isn't possible at the moment and then the child returns to behaving badly - what then?!
KindermusikwithTeacherSuzetteandFriends92907 KindermusikwithTeacherSuzetteandFriends92907 6 years
I agree with Fran. Children need limits. A child whose parents set boundaries is not only more respectful but he/she is also more emotionally secure.
KindermusikwithTeacherSuzetteandFriends92907 KindermusikwithTeacherSuzetteandFriends92907 6 years
I agree with Fran. While it's important for us to understand our children, they also want and need boundaries. A child whose parents set limits is not more well-behaved but more emotionally secure as well.
Rebecca84518 Rebecca84518 6 years
Great article. Too often parents deal only with behavior and not with what's behind the behavior. As Fran Ota and Stacey pointed out, sometimes ignoring a bad behavior helps to de-escalate a situation, but I respectfully disagree that it's "touchy-feely" or "nonsense" to address the underlying feelings. Children are learning to handle anger and frustration and need tools to do so; they must recognize WHY they feel the way they do. Viewing a relationship with children as if it's a power struggle and children are just trying to "test" you is no way to build mutual trust and respect. Those same feelings will come up again and they will not understand what they are if they are punished and treated as if they're simply badly-behaved children. Yes, a tantrum or equivalent cannot be talked through at the time, but if the underlying issues -- or CAUSES aren't addressed, the behavior will resurface or the child will simply learn to lie about or mask the bad bahavior. Rather than blaming children and saying that they just don't respond to this, perhaps if some parents had better-developed communication skills this wouldn't be the case. We can all learn. I know I don't have it all figured out and I know I can learn from the experiences of other parents, even if I don't agree with their philosophy.
SandraSteagall SandraSteagall 6 years
StaceyRodriguez StaceyRodriguez 6 years
I agree with Fran Ota. Children test us to see how far we will allow them to go. My son (2nd child) tried throwing a tantrum in a store one day. I walked over to the security and told him he could stay with him...if he wouldn't listen to me then he would have to listen to the authorities. He's never done it again. We need to set boundaries with our children otherwise they will take it for granted that every behaviour is acceptable once a reason can be found to explain it...which in my opinion is alot of nonsense.
FranOta FranOta 6 years
Having raised four, I am not sure I agree. One of mine just decided he was going to lie down in the street and kick and scream till I got him some ice cream. That has nothing to do with "first time experience". Second, while that "first time" thing might be true for a first child, every subsequent child learns certain things by association - and we've all noticed I am sure how second, third or fourth children seem to pick things up twice as fast as the first. Third, two of my kids, when they were teens - became involved in some less then desirable activity. One did it because he was being bullied at school, the other because he thought it looked like fun. We dealt with each of them differently. Because of those things, we started a parent support group. ONe of our parents, who had a serious problem with her 14 year old son, went to a group in the US which tended to go into this touchy, feely thing - and decided that all these behaviours were due to a genetic malfunction and they could not help themselves. My friend, always pretty much up front, asked if it weren't possible that these kids were just being little a**es....she was requested to leave the group. When her son turned 18, his comment was "Well, now I can't get into trouble any more, or I'll have a permanent record." At every stage of their development, our children are learning abut making choices, and sometimes those choices are not because they don't know what to do, but because they are experimenting with us to see what they *can* get away with. A child who throws a tantrum in the street over an ice cream cone needs to be dealt with simply as a badly behaved child. I left mine screaming on the sidewalk. I was a good quarter block away before he realised it wasn't working. He never did it again, either. We need to use our instincts more often, instead of looking to "experts" to tell us what to do.
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