Reframing Difficult Behavior

I feel like a lot of the difficult qualities in childhood are actually strengths. They are things that we as parents have to train our children to use positively. Whatever the thing is I’m dealing with, “strong-willed” for example, I try to think of synonyms for, like strong, motivated, determined. Then I try to remind myself how the child will be well-served by those traits in the future and try to steer them that way as they grow.

Let’s look at some common negative childhood behavior labels and some positive skills that usually go hand-in-hand.

Strong-willed: strong, determined, motivated, confident, intelligent, independent

Argumentative: confident, strong sense of justice, expressive, strong verbal skills, determined, engaging

Hyper: energetic, joyful, exuberant, kinesthetic, engaging, active

Loud: passionate, enthusiastic

Dramatic/Emotional: relational, sympathetic, empathetic, enthusiastic, tender-hearted

Now I’m not saying there is no such thing as a negative behavior. What I am saying is that negative behaviors are often sinful expressions of traits and qualities that God intends to use for His purposes. It is our job as parents to call these qualities out and to help them see that there is a purpose to how they are wired.

If we are constantly telling our children no and stop when they behave a certain way, we are not teaching them healthy outlets for what they are experiencing internally. That leads to frustration for them and exhaustion for you. If you don’t get the root, the weed will keep popping back up. Taking the analogy a step further, we need to help them understand the soil they are working with and why they are prone to certain weeds, and how they can instead produce healthy fruit with a little work.

If we zoom out on the labels and qualities mentioned above, we can see where they fit in terms of the qualities that God is calling out in His children. In Galatians, we are given a blueprint of what a mature child of God looks like.

Galatians 5:22-23 English Standard Version (ESV)

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

So here they are:

Love

Joy

Peace

Patience

Kindness

Goodness

Faithfulness

Gentleness

Self-Control

These are qualities that we should seek to cultivate in our children (and of course, ourselves!). For each of these, there is also another side to the spectrum. Often, we focus on the rotten fruit rather than the good fruit because the rotten fruit draws our attention with its stench.

Hate

Despair*

Anxiety*

Impatience

Meanness

Evil

Deceit

Violence

Impulsivity

Many of the behaviors we deal with as parents on a daily basis fall on the spectrum between good fruit and rotten fruit. As the parent, we must guide them toward the side which gives life. If we look at these negative behaviors in relation to their opposite, it can be easier to see which fruit of the Spirit we should be working on. If a child acts impulsively, self-control. If they are deceitful, faithfulness.

It can be especially hard in the early years, when communication is limited, but now is the time to lay the groundwork for how you will parent, what your outlook is, and to determine your philosophy of parenthood. I think it is even a good practice to write a mission statement as a parent.

Ask yourself questions. What kind of environment do you want to create in your home? What kinds of qualities do you want to encourage in your child? What kind of attitude and character do you want to exemplify as a parent? What kind of adult do you hope your child will grow into?

Once you have your mission in mind, it will be easier to think up strategies and game plans for accomplishing those goals. I don’t want my children to be victims of accidental parenting. I want to be intentional in the shaping of their tiny beings.

My mission statement is a work in progress, but here are some of the things I want to focus on. I will provide a safe and stable home for my children, built on faith and a vibrant marriage. I will model well-regulated emotions and the fruits of the Spirit (Oh sweet Jesus, please help!). I will model conflict resolution and kindness. I will strive to show how to love God and others.

So how can you effectively parent difficult behavior?

  1. Make a mission statement for your parenting
  2. Recognize the positive side of the coin when dealing with a difficult behavior
  3. Guide your child to find their strengths and to recognize their weaknesses
  4. Help them to grow in the fruits of the Spirit

What are things you do to keep negative behavior in perspective? What do you think is important to include in your parenting philosophy?

*I am not discounting clinical anxiety or depression and I realize that in some cases, these are present in children, even though they usually do not present until adolescence. However, we are still responsible for our behaviors and will be held accountable for how we respond in such situations. If you would like further clarification, feel free to email me, oneaddmommy@gmail.com

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