Recently our youngest son Andrew (7) acted out with some behavior issues. These were times when I knew he understood what was asked of him. He heard what I said yet he proceeded to do the opposite of what I asked of him. Normally my son is congenial and good at following directions – or at least verbalizing if he would prefer to do something else. So, for him to completely ignore what I asked of him then do the exact opposite of what I asked (knowingly disobey) is very unlike him.
Behavior tells a story. In addition to recognizing I needed to put some thought and prayer into figuring out the root of this recent behavioral change, I also knew he needed to experience consequences for his disobedience. After I handed out his consequence, he became very distressed to lose a privilege he was looking forward to. I told him I was sad he was missing out on something he really wanted, and I didn’t want to see him miss out on the fun thing either. He cried and said, “Mommy, why can’t you just let me do this!” I told him I loved him too much to let him get away with doing what he wanted rather than what I asked of him. This statement confused him even more, so I began to clarify.
While he is a young man he has the opportunity to learn how to do hard things. (1) This means he must do things he does not feel like doing, such as respecting authority, be responsible, be kind, recover when he is upset and doesn’t get his way, etc. The best time to do this is while he is young in his child maturity years, and the consequences are still small compared to later in life. When people grow up and still haven’t learned the value of this important maturity task, the consequences of disrespecting authority, irresponsibility, cruelty, and throwing a fit when they don’t get their way are much bigger. These are the kind of behaviors that cause people to lose friendships, jobs, marriages and even financial consequences like losing their home. One of the best gifts I can give my sons is learning these important tasks in our home while the stakes are small so he doesn’t have to experience the painful fall-out from these kinds of behaviors in the “real world” as an adult.
Andrew still wasn’t sure he fully understood my point, so I gave him examples from movies he had seen where someone did not get what they wanted so they threw a big temper tantrum or they were cruel and people didn’t want to be around them. I helped him understand that the people in those movies have not yet learned these lessons he was learning, and it became very costly.
I could see he was beginning to understand. I explained I wanted to help him learn to do these hard things and I was sad with him when he had a consequence for his actions. He said, “Mommy, I don’t know why I’m doing these things!” and we talked for a while about how I could help him. We were able to figure out some of the roots of his recent behaviors and we strategized a plan about how to address the root issue.
Behavior tells a story. When a child has a big change in behavior there is usually something driving it. Rather than be a prison warden with our children and stay focused on behavior modification, we can become detectives who engage in some prayerful investigation. Is someone picking on the child at school? Have you the parent been busier than usual and unavailable so they are missing you? Are there significant changes going on in life? A new baby? A move? Do you or your spouse have a new job and are you working different hours? All of these things create a profound unsettledness in our children who are acute observers in the home. Children require connection with us to better navigate these waters. In addition to a loving consequence, validation, attunement and comfort will help provide the security and facilitate the repair they need to get back on track and manage their big feelings that are likely driving the behavior.
As parents, we want to be friends with our kids and have them to like us, but it is more important for us to be the “bad guy” at times and hand out consequences they don’t like. The goal is not to avoid big emotions, rather learn to return to joy from these emotions together. In the moments of upset, we can synchronize within their upset (even though we are the cause of it) and help our children quiet themselves and offer connection in the midst of their distress. This is hard and requires that we keep staying in relational mode. Our children need us as parents to guide, correct and love them.
How can you connect with your children this week in the midst of their upset? Can you stay in relational mode when big feelings arise? If you notice yourself slipping into non-relational mode try practicing appreciation or one of these relational circuit restoration steps.
- According to the Life Model, learning to do hard things is a child maturity task. The work of Dr. Jim Wilder expands this teaching.
I have been studying the Thrive materials along with Immanuel and now my husband and I are watching the Joy Marriage webinars. It all is a great help.
Our son is 14. We homeschool and many say that he is an outstanding boy for 14. He has a full woodworking shop and is growing a small business etc. However, in family life he is very negative, bossy and he bullies his little brother verbally & openly. His older sister commented that it’s like it is a habit for him that he isn’t quite conscious of – he talks really fast. This is difficult because these boys share a room etc and verbal bullying is often done in private.
What do you suggest we do as parents?
Jen Coursey says
Hi Tracy, thank you for sharing your question! Here are a few thoughts.
1. How old is the younger brother? Depending on his age, I would talk with the younger brother to help him understand some options to different scenarios so he knows what to do and how to stand up to his older brother. What is the best reflection of his heart when big brother is mean?
2. It may help to have a sit-down meeting with the 14 year-old son and talk about this situation then convey this is not a good reflection of who God created him to be. Invite him to share what is happening in his mind and body when he goes into “bully mode” and let’s find some creative solutions to better handle his feelings. Particularly, I would focus on helping him activate his relational circuits and I would ask him to talk with Jesus about what Jesus is doing when he starts to bully his little brother. I would ask the son to report back to me once he has an answer to what Jesus is doing during these moments of meanness.
3. Then, as a family, discuss as a family some shared values and how we treat weaknesses in each other. We protect weaknesses…we are tender toward weaknesses…when there is bullying here is how we handle this…
3. The Pandora Problem may be a good resource to spark some creativity as well.
I hope these thoughts help! I know it is a hard thing when one brother is being unkind to another brother and it can be hard to know how to address. I am praying you see some fruit from these steps and I would suggest you keep your connection to Jesus active during all of these conversations and look to Him for additional creativity.
SO well said! Thank you Jen!
Hee-Choon Sam Lee says
Thank you for this bit of light in my life at this moment. Working with some seniors who are at infant maturity level and trying to figure out how to say, “No”.
I love the word picture: “Rather than be a prison warden with our children and stay focused on behavior modification, we can become detectives who engage in some prayerful investigation.” Great perspective and very helpful. Thank you!