When I was at primary school, I had a boy in my class who we called “Naughty Jason”. He had to sit at a desk by himself while the rest of us sat in groups together at tables. His place on the mat was right at the front, by the teacher’s feet. I can’t, right now, remember one naughty thing he did but I do remember that I didn’t trust him and kept my distance. Now, I feel horrified that Jason had to go about every day with the word “naughty” glued to him. Once it stuck, did he have any hope of being anything but naughty? Most likely, he just went on living up to that expectation. What if he wasn’t naughty and was really just needing?
“Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart”. – Anne Frank
One of my core beliefs is that we are all extensions of God, intended to be distributors of His love. If I believe this, then I must believe that everyone is essentially good. So what happens to make people behave poorly? One explanation is that they have a need that is not being met. In my time as a teacher, I taught many children with difficult behaviour. I can’t, though, think of one of them that I would have called naughty. As an adult, I don’t think I’ve ever used the word naughty to describe a child. In all of them, I could see a need that wasn’t being met.
Before I continue, I should clarify that I’m not talking about those occasional moments of misbehaviour, when a child is simply unable to resist their impulse for fun or curiosity, or they’re unwell and less able to manage themselves. I’m talking about children who have consistent patterns of disruptive behaviour.
WHAT NEEDS MIGHT A CHILD’S NAUGHTY BEHAVIOUR BE INDICATING?
Needing To be Noticed and Have Their Worth Affirmed
My first post was about how we can know that we are all worthy, simply because God put us here. If the key people in a child’s life don’t see that and don’t treat them according to this truth, misbehaviour might be a way that the child says, “Look at me, do you see me? Am I worth anything?” They may find that unwanted behaviour at least gets them some attention and decide that it is better than being ignored or under-valued.
Needing To Have Boundaries Set
Children are designed to test out boundaries, to check where the limits are and that they’re still there. They like boundaries so they know where they stand. We’ve all heard it said that giving our children boundaries is a way of showing our love so, at the same time that they’re checking their boundaries, they’re checking that our love is there also. A child with very loose or no boundaries will push hard to find them, escalating their difficult behaviour as they push.
A very simple example recently in my house has been Thomas’ meal time behaviour. First he started by standing on his chair either to reach things on the table to play with or to try to climb onto my knee. My husband and I asked him to stay in his chair but weren’t particularly firm about it. Then, he started throwing food and utensils. Within a few days, he was playing, shouting and throwing every meal time. Meal time chaos had crept up on us because we hadn’t been consistent with our boundaries. What Thomas did was appropriate to his age (2 years) but a reminder that the boundaries need to be in place.
Needing Help To Manage Emotions
Behaviour that stresses us out can indicate that the child is stressed out themselves. Anxiety, anger and hurt are the first emotions that come to mind when I think of children whose difficult behaviour stems from overwhelming emotions. It is hard to see beyond our own frustration when our children are challenging us but we’re not going to help the child or improve their behaviour if we don’t excavate and find the root of the issue.
WHAT DO I DO?!
Noticing a need does not mean we allow the child to behave as they please. It means we are compassionate and proactive in meeting their needs but whatever discipline method we use, should be followed (as long as it’s respectful, in proportion to the behaviour and consistent). I think there are also a couple of other things we can do to help.
Label our child’s behaviour but don’t label them
It is okay to tell our child that what they did was inconsiderate, disrespectful or unkind. They need to be aware of how their behaviour impacts on others. Everything we do affects others and it may be that they were too wound up in their own needing to think about their impact on the people around them. However, don’t label the child. “You are so rude”, for example. This makes them feel that they have no chance of improving their behaviour because they are innately bad and no chance of redeeming themselves with us. Their lost hope will likely make changing their behaviour much harder.
Show our faith in our child’s good
Notice the times that our child does behave well. When doing this, try to appreciate their co-operation rather than praise it excessively. For example, “Thank you for asking nicely to stay longer at the playground today”. When behaviour reverts back, as it will at times, we can say, “I know you can speak respectfully to me because you did it yesterday when you wanted more time on the playground”. Let them see how their “good” behaviour positively impacts on us or the other people involved. By doing these things, they begin to believe that they are essentially good and capable of behaving well.
IN SUMMARY: WHAT DO THEY NEED?
Remembering that we are all God’s children is a helpful start when a child’s behaviour is fraying our nerves. For me, it activates compassion and waters-down my frustration enough to be able to help my child rather than punish them with my disapproval. “Needing, not naughty” I tell myself.
Much love to you and your little souls,
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