All Tina wants is to have a happy child. A happy child who is loving life.
Tina adores Sam. She really does. But over the years, the days have become loooong. Everything seems to be a battle. Simple things like getting ready in the morning is a battle. Trying to get Sam to be more independent is a battle. Some days, just having a conversation seems to turn into a battle.
Tina’s exhausted. Everything she tries seems to make things worse. She’s starting to lose hope that a happy family life is in her future.
Can you relate to Tina?
There were points in my life with my eldest (3, 5 and 8 years were hard going) where I WAS Tina.
What I found really interesting is that parenting in a calm and connected way was easy when things were going well. Oh, so very easy.
But in the weeks where it felt like I had an angry child determined to hit, kick, throw and shout his way through life, calm and connected parenting was hard.
I noticed that 4 beliefs were getting triggered by this child that was my whole world. And these beliefs were the very same ones that were keeping my clients from having the amazing life they deserved.
The 4 parenting beliefs that were keeping us all stuck are:
- They’re just doing it for attention
- They’re manipulating me to get their own way
- They could control themselves if only they’d try
- Kids only learn through punishment
Belief #1: Children misbehave to get attention
“Ignore it. They’re just doing it for attention.”
The belief that children misbehave just to get attention is so common that I’ve even heard some parenting “experts” say it. If parenting experts are saying it, then it must be true, right?
How did ignoring work out for you? Not well, I bet.
Why doesn’t it work? Let’s explore the belief a bit.
Children 100% want your attention. In fact, it’s one of the things that they can’t live without.
More than anything in the world – YES even more than the latest computer game – children want:
- To be seen
- To be heard
- To be understood
- To be loved unconditionally
How is a child (teen, or heck, even an adult) meant to get these needs met?
If no one pays attention to us, we believe we aren’t seen, heard, or understood. We start to doubt if we’re loved. We’re going to have to do something, ANYTHING, to try to get these needs met.
Why? Why are these needs so darn important?
Remember how humans are designed for survival? [link to last week’s post] And that when a need is threatened, it causes us to take action (behave)?
Compared to adults, children are incredibly vulnerable. The younger the child, the more vulnerable. They NEED you to see and hear them so you can keep them safe from harm. They NEED you to understand them and love them so they can feel they belong. If these needs aren’t met, they are at risk of bad things happening to them.
This leads us on to the next belief…
Belief #2: Children use behaviour to manipulate us, so they get their own way
So we’ve just learned that children use behaviour to get what they THINK will make them feel good again. That’s manipulation, right? Wrong!
Dictionary.com defines manipulation as “to manage or influence skillfully, especially in an unfair manner.”
To manipulate, we must:
- Be good at forward planning
- Be able to imagine different situations and outcomes
- Be able to control our impulses
- Be able to organise ourselves
- Understand our emotions and other people’s emotions
- Know how to use other people’s emotions to our advantage
Some children appear able to do these things. But…and this is a huge BUT. To manipulate, one must do all of these skillfully. As Sarah Ockwell-Smith highlights, these skills aren’t found to be fully developed until we’re 20-25 years of age.
Yeah. My jaw dropped when I first heard about this. So your toddler, 8-year old, even your teen, isn’t manipulating you. What’s happening is they have learned a way to behave, and now they’re stuck in this pattern of behaviour. This brings us to belief number 3.
Belief #3: Children can control themselves (but they’re choosing not to)
Everything we think or do is a choice. However, and this is really important, to make a choice we need these two things:
- We need to be calm (in other words, NOT in Survival Mode – fight/flight/freeze mode)
- We need to know what to think/do instead
Unless children (teens and even us grown-ups) can meet those two criteria simultaneously, behaviour isn’t a choice. The behaviour is driven by Survival Mode and experience.
That is, behaviour will be whatever actions we know how to do and have been doing for a while. And we will carry on doing this until we know what else to do (and we’re super good at it). And the way Survival Mode works, you don’t need it to be fully activated for it to affect your ability to choose wisely. A bit of stress is all you need!
When we punish “bad” behaviour, we’re assuming children choose to do the wrong things on purpose. If we stopped and thought about it, we’d realise that NO ONE would ever choose punishment if they could behave in a better way.
Belief #4: Kids only learn through punishment
This belief is probably the hardest one to shift because it’s everywhere around us. And most of us have experienced punishment ourselves and “turned out fine.”
I’m not going to go down the rabbit hole of busting this belief wide open. You can read more about why the “I turned out fine” isn’t a valid reason for punishing behaviour here ( 7 Lies That Make Parenting Harder And What You Should Be Saying Instead).
Instead, I want us to focus on what children want (and NEED) more than anything in the whole wide world. Do you know what that is?
Hint: We covered it in belief 1. *wink*
More than anything in the world, children (in fact, ALL humans) need to be seen, heard, understood and loved unconditionally.
Think of the most common parenting strategies: Ignoring, time-out, naughty step/chair, and consequences. Do these punishments meet children’s deepest needs?
NO! In fact, they do the exact opposite!
Not only do they not meet children’s deepest needs, but they also don’t teach what to do instead. When calm, a child can tell you what they should do. But the minute they’re stressed, they have no access to their Big Modern Thinking Brain. They are acting based on experience.
If you want your child to behave “well,” you must support them in learning what to do when things don’t go their way until they can do it independently. And that means doing something very, very different to punishment!
Attention-seeking is your secret weapon!
This parenting gig is tough, and most of us have beliefs that make it more challenging.
In this post, we covered the top 4 beliefs that keep us stuck. These are:
- Children misbehave for attention
- Children misbehave to manipulate us
- Children are choosing to misbehave
- Punishment is the only way kids learn how to behave
These 4 beliefs run deep. We usually learn them during our childhood, and they get reinforced as we grow up. These beliefs hide until something triggers them – our children’s behaviour. As long as we keep these beliefs, being a calm and confident parent will be difficult.
Home life won’t be the happy, peaceful and fun life you desire.
One of the quickest ways to start creating positive changes at home is to remember that children ARE attention seekers. Attention seeking is how we humans have survived this long.
Listening, and I mean REALLY listening to your child BEFORE they start using their behaviour to get your attention, will help them feel seen, heard, understood and loved.
Just 5 minutes of your undivided attention when your child needs it can go a long way to help decrease some of those challenging behaviours.
Give it a try, and let me know what changes you’re seeing!