False Assumption 1: Unacceptable Behaviors

by | False Assumptions Series

All unacceptable behaviors are signs of challenges to my authority so should be responded to in the same way.

All unacceptable behaviors are not created equal.  Of course we all know that. Some unacceptable behaviors that we endure with our kids are more painful and may have greater consequences. Some call for drastic measures on our part while others hardly need our attending to at all.

Just as important to realize is the fact that not all unacceptable behaviors that our kids might toss at us are necessarily all an attempt on their part to challenge or usurp our authority.

In my book, Parenting With An Attitude, 21 Questions Successful Parents Ask Themselves, I make a distinction between the will of our kids, and their spirit.  Their spirit refers to the attitudes they develop about themselves, as well as toward life in general.  Among other characteristics, a healthy spirit reflects an attitude of self-acceptance and a well-balanced assessment of their worth and value.  It is our role to help develop their spirit and to help protect it.

Their will on the other hand, is something very different and must be discouraged and harnessed, if you will.  That too is an important part of our parenting task and goals. Their will refers to a natural tendency to be defiant, self-willed and demanding.  We’ve all been witness to an individual-child or adult-whose will has not been discouraged nor harnessed; it’s not usually a pretty sight.

And most of us have witnessed a child or adult whose spirit, rather than his will, has been broken; that too, is not a very pretty sight. Too often, a child grows up to be an adult whose spirit was broken while their will ran amuck; yet another sight that’s not so pretty.

The reason it is important for us parents to understand the differences between the will vs. the spirit of our kids, is that there is no quicker way to break a child’s spirit and at the same time light a fire under their destructive will, than by making the false assumption that all of their unacceptable behaviors are motivated by their need and determination to usurp our authority. Let me explain.

It seems to me that behind most unacceptable childhood behaviors one of four causes can be found.  There may be more than these four, but these are the most common and recurrent.

First, an unacceptable behavior may simply be due to ignorance.

And ignorance may be in play behind behaviors that we want to change at all ages of development.  Understandably though, our kids are not above using ignorance as a reason when in fact it is not.  That’s why our making the determination is so difficult, but nonetheless important to do.

When ignorance – something they have not yet learned – leads to an unacceptable behavior, then it must be addressed differently than if it had occurred as an attempt to usurp our authority.

The second cause that may at times lie behind an unacceptable behavior is a mistake.

Stated simply, that just means that or kid new better (was not ignorant), but got careless, didn’t think fast enough, or any one of a number of circumstances that interfered with their applying what they knew to the current situation. (I’m sure that most of us parents can relate to times when we knew better-weren’t ignorant-but for some reason, made a mistake that led to an unacceptable behavior on our part.

When a mistake leads to unacceptable behaviors, then it must be addressed differently than if it had occurred as an attempt to usurp our authority.

The third underlying reason that can lead to unacceptable behaviors we see in our kids is the need for attention.

This makes more sense when we understand the principle that,  “negative strokes are better than no strokes at all”.  “If I can’t get attention in positive and acceptable ways, then maybe misbehaving will get what I need”.In the course of our busy lives we can develop a pattern of giving our kids attention when it is absolutely necessary because they are in some way acting unacceptably, but to neglect giving them the attention they need when all seems to be going well. Too often, it can be the squeaky (misbehaving) wheel that gets the grease (our attention).

In spite of the fact that their negative behaviors seldom bring about what they most want, i.e., some form of positive connection, at least they get an acknowledgment via being yelled at, spanked or in any other way disciplined.

When the need for attention from us leads to unacceptable behaviors, then it must be addressed differently than if it had occurred as an attempt to usurp our authority.

And the fourth reason that can lie behind their unacceptable behaviors is in fact, their need to usurp our authority.

When that attempt is made, we must see it for what it is-not ignorance, not a mistake, and not a cry for a bit of attention, but the result of a full blown (but natural) need to be fully and completely in charge of his/her own life.

More about challenging and usurping our authority will be addressed in the following articles on false assumptions.  Suffice it to say here once again, that it is essential to successful parenting that we do our best to assess and evaluate what the underlying reasons or motivations are behind the behaviors that need our attending to, before jumping in with a response. While some corrective response may be needed, which response is appropriate can only be determined when we have a good idea of what lies behind the unacceptable behaviors of our kids

Suggestion: Easier said than done perfectly, but attempt to evaluate what is behind unacceptable behaviors before responding to them.



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