As I read through the list of “naughty” behaviors, I had to admit the author, Dr. Erin Leyba, was onto something. Erin has a blog and a website called “the joy fix for parents,” which you can find at thejoyfix.com. Approaches like Joyful Parenting and Gentle Parenting, like Choice Theory, remind us to view child behavior through a more thoughtful lens, a lens that sees them developmentally, rather than as pests that need to be squelched.
I pass on the 10 behaviors below, also quoting the article (which you can access by clinking on this Psychology Today link), and also adding a Choice Theory comment here and there.
1 Not Controlling Impulses
Ever say to your kid, “Don’t throw that!” and they throw it anyway? Research suggests that the brain regions involved in self-control are immature at birth and don’t fully mature until the end of adolescence, which explains why developing self-control is a long, slow process.
Choice Theory: This developmental reality doesn’t at all mean we ignore impulsive behavior; it should remind us to respond to their behavior in a more level, gentler manner.
We take our kids to Target, the park, and their sister’s play in a single morning, and inevitably see meltdowns, hyperactivity, or outright resistance. Jam-packed schedules, overstimulation, and exhaustion are hallmarks of modern family life.
Choice Theory: We often expect kids to have the same levels of interest and stamina that we have as adults, and in doing so we neglect what kids all need a lot of – that being time to just relax. A meltdown may be the result of the circumstances – no nap, late bedtime, skipping a meal, too much sugar – we have created.
3 Core Conditions
Ever been “hangry” – angry because you’re hungry – or completely out of patience due to sleep deprivation? Little kids are affected tenfold by such “core conditions” of being tired, hungry, thirsty, over-sugared, or sick.
4 Expression of Big Feelings
As adults, we’ve been taught to tame and hide our big emotions, often by stuffing them, displacing them, or distracting them. Kids can’t do that yet.
Choice Theory: Again, it’s not that such behavior shouldn’t be addressed or confronted; rather it’s about teaching and coaching kids on how to deal with their feelings. It can be as simple as “Use your words,” rather than going into a punishment mode.
5 Developmental Need for Tons of Movement
Instead of calling a child “bad” when they’re acting energetic, it may be better to organize a quick trip to the playground or a stroll around the block.
Choice Theory: I saw a sign on a K/1 classroom wall that read: It is stillness that must be justified, not movement. I saw this sign over 20 years ago, but it has been such a significant truth to me that I have never forgotten it.
6 Developmentally Wired to Resist and Become Independent
Every 40 and 50 degree day resulted in an argument at one family’s home. A first-grader insisted that it was warm enough to wear shorts, while mom said the temperature called for pants. Erik Erikson’s (1963) model posits that toddlers try to do things for themselves, and that preschoolers take initiative and carry out their own plans. Even though it’s annoying when a child picks your tomatoes while they are still green, cuts their own hair, or makes a fort with eight freshly washed sheets, they’re doing exactly what they are supposed to be doing—trying to carry out their own plans, separate, make their own decisions, and become their own little independent people.
Choice Theory: Number 6 really addresses core aspects of Choice Theory, and reminds us that, as parents and teachers, our goal is to help our children become independent as soon as possible. Such independence doesn’t mean “aloneness,” though, as learning to be interdependent is also a needed lifeskill.
7 Core Strengths that Trip Them Up
We all have core strengths that can also trip us up. Maybe we’re incredibly focused, but can’t transition very easily. Maybe we’re intuitive and sensitive, but take on other people’s negative moods like a sponge. Kids are similar. They may be driven in school, but have difficulty coping when they mess up (e.g. – yelling when they make a mistake). Recognizing when a child’s unwelcome behaviors are really the flip side of their strengths—just like ours—can help us react with more understanding.
8 Fierce Need for Play
Your kid paints her face with yogurt, wants you to chase her and “catch her” when you’re trying to brush her teeth, or puts on daddy’s shoes instead of her own when you’re racing out the door. Some of kids’ seemingly “bad” behaviors are what John Gottman calls “bids” for you to play with them. Kids love to be silly and goofy. They delight in the connection that comes from shared laughter and love the elements of novelty, surprise, and excitement. Play often takes extra time and therefore gets in the way of parents’ own timelines and agendas, which may look like resistance and naughtiness even when it’s not.
9 Reaction to Parents’ Moods
Multiple research studies on emotional contagion have found that it only takes milliseconds for emotions like enthusiasm and joy, as well as sadness, fear, and anger, to pass from person to person, and this often occurs without either person realizing it. Kids especially pick up on their parents’ moods.
10 Response to Inconsistent Limits
At one ball game, you buy your kid M&Ms. At the next, you say, “No, it’ll ruin your dinner,” and the kid screams and whines. When parents are inconsistent with limits, it naturally sets off kids’ frustration and invites whining or yelling. Just like adults, kids want and need to know what to expect.
Again, I want to thank Erin Leyba for the great points she shared in her blog, many of them excerpted from her recent book, Joy Fixes for Weary Parents. Kids don’t come with instructions and often we treat them like they are little adults intentionally making our lives difficult. Leyba reminds us that children usually act the way they way they do because that is how babies or toddlers or children act. Our role as teachers and parents is to gently and compassionately teach them, as they mature, how to behave appropriately given the circumstances.
For me, one of the big Choice Theory reminders is that human beings are born with an internal system of motivation and behavior and that internal system remains in place throughout our lives. And thus, the significant adults in a child’s life have the privilege of helping that child become aware of his internal guidance system and the implications of his power of choice. It’s a pretty cool privilege, really!