In a previous series of articles, we looked at attention-seeking behavior, controlling behavior, revenge-seeking behavior and displays of inadequacy in children. This was an inside look into the secret underlying motivations behind children’s misbehaviors. Today we will kick off another series that looks at misbehavior from a Christian parent’s perspective. We will uncover what the behavior reveals about the child’s heart and how to respond effectively.
There are essentially three types of misbehavior: ignorant, selfish, and intentional. Today we will look at ignorant misbehaviors.
What are Ignorant Behaviors?
Children are, by nature, ignorant. This is not an insult or a put down (children are a true joy and blessing); it is simply a statement of fact. They do not know as much as adults. Therefore, some of their misbehaviors are a direct result from not understanding how the world works, figures of speech or how their behaviors could impact others. Some examples of ignorant behaviors include:
- Washing a stuffed animal in the dishwasher.
- Putting sunscreen on a favorite doll.
- Letting the cat outside in the pouring rain to make a friend after hearing Mom say, “It’s raining cats and dogs.”
- Putting stickers all over the back seat of the car to make it “pretty.”
What Ignorant Behaviors Say About the Heart
As you can see from these examples, the heart motivation of the child was not to intentionally cause harm or disobey. There was no underlying heart problem. The child was simply trying to remedy a problem or a explore a situation with the information that was available. Unfortunately for Mom and Dad, that information was limited. The temptation here is to scold and discipline the child for what has likely now become a problem for you (a mess to clean up or something to repair). Harsh punishments and sharp words in these circumstances can be very confusing and damaging for children. These types of “misbehaviors” (I use that term loosely) require patience and instruction. If we can view these situations as what they foundationally are (a teaching opportunity) rather than what they feel like to us (a nuisance or inconvenience), we will be able to relate to the child in a way that is most effective.
How to Address Ignorant Behaviors
The best dialogue you can have with your child in these types of circumstances are exploratory. You can ask things like, “What went wrong?” “What were you hoping would happen?” “Why do you think that it didn’t turn out that way?” “What can we do to fix it now and make it right?” “What would be a better thing to do next time?” Let your child know that you are glad that he is eager to try things on his own, but that if he needs help, he can come to you. If you find yourself overwhelmed or angry, walk away and wait until you can address the issue calmly.
A Note of Caution
I would like to add that if you find that your child is engaging in these types of behaviors often, you may need to consider your availability to him (real or perceived). He may be trying to figure things out for himself because he may feel you are too busy or unavailable. Or he may be the type of child who requires a higher level of supervision than you are currently providing.
Please feel free to leave some examples of “ignorant” misbehaviors that you have experienced in your own family in the comments section. This is the stuff that memories are made of!