Top 5 Keys to a Well Behaved Kid
Having a well behaved child obviously makes parenthood a lot easier. Today I want to give you the top five things that you can do and not do to have a well behaved child.
Let me start by exploring what I mean by “well behaved.” A healthy child needs to rebel against us, protest our boundaries, insult our character, and even say things that make us question ourselves as a parent. This is what learning to be an individual should look like. Ideally we can hold a large enough space for them to travel through this crucial stage of development as they become a capable, self-confident, conscious and happy adult.
This is the really hard part of parenting. At times, we might be able to use domination and fear to manipulate a child into doing what we want more consistently, but it rarely works for very long and it significantly prevents a child from becoming an actualized individual.
We can try to raise the equivalent of well behaved dogs, but it is more important that we raise self-aware, empowered citizens. These five areas will help you on that path.
#5 Connect to Redirect
The quality of the relationship with your kid directly affects how well they behave. If you have a good relationship, the child will generally behave. If you have a bad relationship and there is bad attachment between you and your child, then they are likely to misbehave. It sounds simple, but most of us fail to hold this in mind and instead blame our kids as the problem.
One of the simple ways in which you can take advantage of this in the moment is to connect before you redirect. You connect, you get a good relationship with your kid and then you redirect them into what you want. If your kid is doing something you do not want, sit down next to them, join them in that experience and then direct them to what you want.
If on the other hand you do not have that good connection and you just come in and try to get them to do something different, they are very likely to resist. If you focus on the attachment between you and your child, then they will want to do good. Not for you, but because they feel a part of a team where they feel good.
Try to notice when your child is out of attachment with you, maybe when they come home from school or some other disconnected situation, and do something simple to connect with them. Just a couple of minutes of playing around with them or hearing what is going on for them, will allow them to feel you and they’ll be more inclined to behave in a well mannered way.
Along these same lines, when you are talking to them, try not to use a harsh voice. Of course, this is really hard for all of us, but if you come with a harsh voice, they’re going to rebel. Nobody likes being spoken to in a harsh way. Nobody likes feeling disrespected. None of us like it as adults so why would a child like it? Why would a child like being told what to do any more than we do?
The unfortunate reality is anytime we try to control our kids, they are going to rebel in subtle or dramatic ways. See if you can stay in loving connection where you focus on the attachment between you, then it is fairly easy to work together as a team.
We experience the same thing as adults. If we feel like our boss cares about us and we feel connected to them, then we are inclined to work harder and ‘behave’ in the minds of our employers. If we feel disconnected, then we are likely to act out in all sorts of big and little ways.
#4 Don’t Just Blame the Kid
The number four best thing that you can do to have a well behaved child is to figure out why they are misbehaving. Look at what is happening for them that might be causing them to act out. Are they having trouble at school? Perhaps there is something happening in the family. Perhaps there is some way in which you and your partner are stressed or not dealing with your own issues. It is quite normal for children to be brought into therapy because they are ‘misbehaving’, but it soon becomes clear that the underlying problem is actually a difficulty the parents are having.
It is very rarely the child’s fault that they are acting out. It is usually something in their environment that is leading them to have bad feelings in their system and then they act out of those bad feelings. It is so easy to blame the kid and not look at ourselves, but sit back, look at yourself, look at your partner, look at what’s going on beyond the child’s behavior.
There was one moment where I was really frustrated with my daughter because she did not want to go to school and she was being so resistant. I kept pushing on her. Finally it came out that she had a hard time at school the day before and that is why she did not want to get out of bed. I did not sit there and take the time to listen at first, instead I got frustrated with her and was seeing her as the problem. That did not help anything. Finally, I was able to get out of my way, talk to her, figure out what was going on and address that in a way that she was able to go to school feeling much better.
#3 Use Wise Boundaries
The third most important key is to set wise boundaries. Yes, we all know they need solid boundaries, but more specifically, they need loving boundaries. In order to provide boundaries that actually work, we have to be able to lovingly tolerate our children’s discontent.
It goes something like this: They want ice cream. We say they can not have ice cream. They throw a fit. We give in because it’s too upsetting. Or we get frustrated with them and tell them to pull it together and not make such a fuss. Boundaries are meant to help a kid feel like they live in a consistent and safe world with limits that make sense. When we get upset or given in, we aren’t providing this experience.
We have to stay with them in their tantrum, tolerate their upset, not give in and not get too upset. We can say, “You really want ice cream and you can’t have ice cream right now and I understand how frustrating that is.” What you say isn’t nearly as important as staying with them and not getting upset. And obviously what you say depends immensely upon their age. With kids over 10, it’s a different game about which I will share more in future posts.
If we stay in a loving place, but hold the boundary all while not overreacting to their upset, then they come to accept, “Okay. There is a boundary. I am frustrated, but I’m being held in a way that feels safe and caring.”
If on the other hand we set boundaries, then let go of them because we cannot actually tolerate their reaction, or if we set boundaries that don’t make sense and impose them harshly, then it is likely to lead to misbehavior.
It’s important to note that it is definitely good to renegotiate a boundary. There are many times when I have set a boundary and then realized it was ridiculous. If you cannot justify the boundary to the kid, then you probably need to reassess and look at why you are imposing this upon them. They need to be respected. It is not about giving them the wheel and letting them control the ship, but it is about understanding that they will rebel and misbehave more if they’re not respected and treated as humans.
#2 Master Bad Moments
The second most important thing you can do is to not take a hard moment and try to make it a teachable moment. Wait for a calm moment. When your child is upset, it is not the moment to give them a lecture about how they are behaving poorly.
When we are flooded and upset, we are all unable to be rational. We are unable to think and solve the dilemma and we tend to just make it worse by adding our upset on top of our child’s.
If you are too flooded to not be able to stay calm with them, then give yourself a time out. Disengage for a moment, lie down on the floor, close your eyes, take a few breaths. Your kid will be surprised and it’ll allow you to regain your head so you can handle the moment with a lot more calm and poise.
Then maybe that evening or even the next day, once you have had a chance to connect with your child in positive someway, you can talk about how the bad moment went and what would have been better. Talk about what you could have done better and ask what they could have done better. Share the parts of their behavior that were difficult and ask them what was difficult about how you were being. This really builds emotional intelligence, but also your bond and your collective ability to handle such moments in the future.
#1 Don’t Reward or Punish?!
The most important thing that you can do is to not use rewards and punishments. Yes, there are a lot of experts that tell you to use these techniques in order to get your kid to behave, but countless long term studies have shown that these types of behavioral modifications do not lead to happy, well behaved kids. These techniques do lead to short term behavioral changes and work wonderfully with dogs, but I believe we want to raise empowered individuals, not well behaved animals.
The reality is that we all have intrinsic motivation, an inner desire to do good things in life. When we feel pressured, whether or not it is with a reward or a threat, we lose that inner motivation.
For example, kids love to learn, but if you manipulate or threaten them into doing their schoolwork, then they will gain an aversion to learning because it becomes associated with coercion. That coercion effectively buries their personal motivation. Their love for learning gets supplanted by the promise of the five dollars or fear of us being upset with them.
Kids are born inherently good and motivated to behave well in their communities and families. It simply feels good to learn and grow and be responsible and treat those around us with respect. If we can focus on the connection with the child, then they will feel good in themselves and they will want to be a good part of the family. If they are feeling coerced or scared, they are going to alternate between being compliant and resistant to you. Their relationship with us becomes tactical, and not from a sense of being on the same team where everyone is supported to be their best self.
Thank you for joining me for another episode. I would love to hear your ideas on how to get your child to act well. Please join the conversation below and I will see you next time for another episode.