I don’t have to look far to give you an example of how normal such behaviour is.
For example, tonight my toddler kept on pouring water out of the bath, despite this being an ongoing issue, and me repeatedly explaining why we don’t do that.
It seems totally rational to expect someone to take on board what we have just said and integrate it into their future behaviour, especially when we repeat ourselves constantly. But we often forget that that someone in question is way younger than we are.
That they don’t always do rational.
That their brain is still under construction and that developmentally? They are simply not able to do that.
While their language or other abilities might be well developed, higher cognitive functions such as this one just aren’t.
As a result of this misconception, it can be easy to interpret such situations as intentional misbehaviour, or “naughtiness“. Not to mention it often leaves us hanging on to our sanity by a thread! It is especially hard when others (often childless others) judge us or our child for the little snapshots that they experience.
No child is naughty.
We might not like their behaviour.
We might not agree with it.
Heck, some days we might even be close to losing our will to live, because of it.
So what CAN we do?
Whatever you do try your best to remain calm and loving. I know. Sometimes it’s easier said than done.
Make sure to make self-care and rest a priority- there’s nothing like tiredness or needing alone time to make us run on empty, and often as a result be less than our best selves when it comes to patience, understanding and parenting in general. Do whatever you need to, to remain calm.
Meditation and mindfulness practice are a great place to start.
It is a lot easier to remain calm and understanding when we look at the situation from a bigger perspective.
Ask yourself is what I’m asking of them developmentally-appropriate for their age?
Just to give you an idea- the part of the brain responsible for impulse control (prefrontal cortex amongst others) isn’t fully matured until the end of adolescence with a marked learning period between the ages of 3-6. The theory of mind (ability to know what another is feeling and to have a perspective that doesn’t just involve the Self-centred ME) again develops mostly in the pre-school years. The same pattern is seen with other higher executive functions.
Can you then see how it is normal for say a 3 year old to lash out in aggression, get overly-excited or scream? Can you then see how our expectations and reactions are often faulty?
We often scold, criticise and damage our children’s self-concept, when they simply CANNOT do any better at that time, and are in fact acting appropriately for their age and brain development.
The bottom line is this: to best support our children, we need to be mindful of this wider perspective.
Our power lies in our perception, not in trying to changing their behaviour.
Use simple language and rationalisations
Most of the time lengthy explanations and elaborate rationalisations won’t work. Stick to language that you know your child will understand. If emotions are running high, wait for them to dissipate before beginning any “coaching” talk as it is unlikely to be incorporated or even acknowledged.
Plus you’re likely to wind yourself up in the process and get sucked into the overwhelm.
Hit that repeat button
Expect to be repeating yourself a lot.
Remember that old cliché question “how many times do I have to tell you”? Yeah… well, the answer? Hundreds of thousands.
Unless our children have the right brain structures in place (and that means lots of new neural pathways, which by the way form as a result of repeated stimulation!), they won’t be able incorporate the expectations we place upon them into their behaviour for some time. But the good news is, all this talking and repetition is actually working. Just very, VERY slowly. Knowing that repetition is to be expected long-term, makes us more likely to remain calm and guide appropriately.
Offer healthy alternatives
Sometimes when explaining and rationalisations don’t work (and this is almost always the case, at least in the short-term), offering healthy alternatives can be useful.
Is your toddler finding it hard to not throw toys and other objects? Offer ball play and games outdoors.
Biting seems to be the issue? Offer chewy toys.
Pouring and splashing water? Suggest water play outdoors or at a swimming pool.
Demonstrating redirection as a coping strategy can be useful.
Not to mention the benefits of learning about contexts- “hard or fragile objects are not ok to throw indoors as they can break or hurt others, but soft balls are ok to throw outside” and so on.
Connection is the key to most things when it comes to parenting. Often when children need our love and presence they will ask for it in the most unloving of ways. Children who are repeatedly “misbehaving” are often the ones who need our love the most.
When you chose to see things in terms of your child struggling to master a mental new skill, instead of intentionally misbehaving, you’re likely to show up from a calm and supportive space, and say goodbye to outdated and harsh ways (which by the way only create more disconnection perpetuating this cycle further).
And no, it is not a case of manipulation on their part. It is more about craving love and connection and being upset when there’s a lack of it. Find ways to re-connect, slow down, pay attention. Check out out our article on “soul fever” for ideas on how to extinguish such upset and rebuild connection.
Make peace with less than perfect
Even though that ability to change a nappy with your left hand whilst stirring dinner with the right; or not sleeping through a single night in years are highly admirable skill sets- we are NOT superhuman. As much as we like to think we are, we just aren’t.
So be gentle with yourself. Just as you adjust your expectations to more realistic when it comes to your child, so too be more realistic with yourself. There is no such thing as the perfect parent. And it is perfectly okay to have bad days.
While it is great to want more, to be better and to try to act more consciously in our parenting, there is no such thing as perfect.
Accept that bad days happen to all of us. When you do really mess up, own up to it. Reflect on it. Apologise.
This will actually be kind of an awesome lesson for our little ones- that everyone can make a mistake, but that we can always put things right.
Originally published at www.newgenerationparenting.co.uk