5 Steps to Handling Misbehavior with Connection


We are creatures of habit. Whether it be the way we were parented or the stress of raising kids from hard places, I find most parents (myself included) are reactionary to misbehavior.

  • The milk spills, we yell (if not at our kids, in general exasperation).
  • Exorbitant amounts of texts, we take the phone.
  • Rudeness to friends, immediate separation from the situation.
  • Whining out of boredom, we launch into a lecture.
  • Public disobedience (ok, public anything)…ugh, let’s not go there.

One of the most important tenants of connected parenting is recognizing that behavior is communication. Our kids’ behavior is communicating something, and even our reaction to it is communicating something.

If we’re really honest with ourselves, our strong reaction to public misbehavior is usually due to what we fear those around us are thinking of our child and us as parents.

Because our children often regulate off of us, our strong reactions can escalate and worsen the situation when we could have stayed at Level 1–redirection and playful engagement.

Challenge yourself to create new, more mindful reactions to maladaptive behavior. Not everything needs to be addressed exactly in that moment. Stopping to put on your oxygen mask first, activating your calming neurotransmitters, processing your emotions, then intentionally and connectedly interacting with your child will be much more effective. Try these steps:

  1. Take a deep breath and exhale while counting to 20.
  2. If necessary, take time to do another calming activity that brings you back to your logic (not lizard) brain.
  3. Be honest with yourself and examine your feelings about what just happened. Are you frustrated because this is the umpteenth time you’ve had to address this behavior? Are you on the slippery slope imagining what this will look like when you’re child is 30 and still doing x, y, or z? Are you worried about what other people with think of him (including his friends) if this behavior keeps up?
  4. Be a detective and hypothesize what could have triggered the behavior. Is there something you can do next time to set your child up for better success? Is there another tool you can offer your child as an alternative to the maladaptive behavior? The key here is to look deeper than the behavior and address the deeper, underlying need.
  5. Engage your child calmly to talk through what happened focusing on staying on her side, owning your part and what you could have done differently (if anything), and helping your child feel empowered for next time. Really fragile kiddos may need you to pour into their relationship bank using their love language, connecting through nurture first before being able to handle a conversation with more structure.

Yes, this takes an immense amount of time. However, I’ve found in my family, that I often have to do these steps anyway to repair some reaction I had to behavior. Except in the situation where I’ve reacted first, it takes a lot longer for both of us to calm down and be able to move through the remainder of the steps. I would really save time if I just skipped the crazy mom reaction piece.

For what scenarios in your family do you need to start putting on your oxygen mask first?

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