Kids do what works. It’s very simple, but for some reason, this idea can be difficult for parents to recognize. If your child has a chronic behavior problem that you can’t seem to shake, ask yourself whether you’re encouraging it somehow by proving to your child that it’s working.
To determine whether a behavior is working for your child, it’s important to understand his motivations. In many cases, our kids seek positive attention from us, but even negative attention is attention. Consider the following behaviors:
- Sibling squabbles
These behaviors typically incite some sort of reaction from us. Be careful that you don’t respond to these behaviors like this:
- Whining = Giving in to the whining or responding in any way to the child’s whining voice
- Crying = Again, giving in to the child’s protest
- Sibling squabbles = Taking sides, giving one child more attention than the other or somehow validating the argument
- Tattling = Disciplining the child who did the initial wrong without disciplining the child who tattled
There are many more behaviors that we see in our children that become chronic misbehaviors simply because the child has learned that they work. But before you label your child as a manipulator, understand that all of this happens on a very subconscious level for the child. Recently, I was talking to a friend about William’s complaining about school work. (We’re homeschooling.) The complaining had become such a habit that it was a daily problem. She suggested that I simply walk away or turn my head. It worked! Not only that, but a few days later, he had to work alone by necessity, and he actually decided that he did better when he was left alone. Without consciously recognizing that he was whining and complaining, he realized that it was getting him nowhere, so much so that he asked to work alone.
One other thing to look out for when identifying chronic misbehaviors that work is to realize that you are not the only one who might be feeding the fire. Your spouse, grandparents, and even the child’s sibling might encourage the misbehavior. So if you hear whining from your child and see it directed toward your husband, you know that he is probably the one who gives in to the whining. It is then his task to work on his response to any and all whining.
Also beware that if you don’t nip a misbehavior in the bud, the child’s sibling might actually do it, too. If your youngest cries to get what he wants and his sibling sees this happening all day every day, then he or she will start to do it as well. Who wouldn’t? If it works for baby brother, why wouldn’t it work for big sister?