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Friday, February 7, 2014

What to Do When Children Misbehave: Buy Time and Be Practical!

From Dr. Allison Andrews' E-Newsletter

By Allison Andrews, Psy.D.
January 31, 2014

"Make things as simple as possible, but not simpler."
-- Albert Einstein

Often I find myself talking with parents about what to do when their children misbehave.

This is a big topic and there are many different approaches. There are many reasons children do not do what we want them to do.

Today, though I want to be very practical. For today, I want to talk about one important concept: Buying yourself some time.

Creating space to think things over before you hand out a punishment or consequence.

This is a piece of advice but it is also a about developing a particular parenting MINDSET (more about mindset in a moment).

When your child has done something and you start to feel the impulse to impose consequences, take a moment. Re-group and allow yourself to think about what your child really and truly needs.

A consequence may in fact be necessary. A consequence may in fact be called for. I am not suggesting otherwise. But often when we offer a consequence when we are angry and not thinking things though.

Step away. Buy yourself some time. Take some deep breaths. Tell them you need time to think things over. Do not commit to letting them off the hook.

But give yourself time to think it all over.

Do not impulsively take away screen time for the next month or the next year or impose some other big punishment. (Perhaps you will decide to do this, I am just suggesting not to do it in the heat of the moment).

If you need a reason to buy yourself some time, remember that you are modeling it all for them. All the internal acrobatics required to THINK things through and controlling your emotional reactions. You are modeling how not to be impulsive. You are modeling how to be angry without overreacting.

And if you need another reason, remember some consequences do not always work and often make your life more difficult.

For example, Generally, I believe in strictly limiting screen as a general rule, but what will your life be like if you have to follow through on a promise of no screen time for a prolonged amount of time?

For that matter, what will your life be like if you make a promise of a consequence that you cannot keep. What will your family learn then?

Finally, at the moment that your child is struggling or misbehaving they may not be able to hear or process whatever you are saying or doing in the moment. So the consequence may leave them dazed and confused. The impact may not be what you think. They may not connect their actions and your response.

Now this may seem pretty simply. But it is important because it all gets back to your parenting MINDSET.

I would argue that parents of children with regulation issues, attention issues and sensory and learning issues have to develop a slightly different MINDSET.

It is a mindset that understands the difference between misbehaving in order to get away with something, and misbehaving because a child simply does not have the skills or support to do what we want them to do.
  • It is a MINDSET that sees the BIG picture.
  • It is a MINDSET that does not compare.
  • It is a MINDSET that understands that most children want to do well, even when they are behaving badly.
  • It is a MINDSET that is able to let go of what we think we SHOULD do. See this post for more on "shoulds."

It is a MINDSET that understands that a parent imposed consequence will likely not help a sensory sensitive child put on their shoes, or a child struggling with executive dysfunction organize his homework.

I am not saying that this is easy. I struggle with it too.

Ultimately, though, as we figure out the right approach for our quirky and unique children we have to ask ourselves the very simple questions: Is it working? Is it helping?


Allison Andrews is a psychologist in private practice in Lexington whose focus is on supporting the well-being of the parents and families of children with special needs. She provides both practical strategies and emotional support to parents. This includes supporting parents’ self-care and emotional well-being and helping parents develop practical, down to earth and realistic parenting strategies. Her goal is to help parents create calm and reduce chaos.

You can reach Dr. Andrews at 617-762-0694, or by email to drandrews@allisonandrewspsyd.com.

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