I remember the time, when they were about two, that my one daughter bit her sister on the back so hard it left marks and, of course, made her cry. Rather than scold or punish the instigator, I wrapped them both warmly in my arms, hugging both of them and said, “Sweetheart, look…you’ve made your sister cry. I know you didn’t mean to do that. I think we should make her feel better.”
She too started crying, but put her arms around her sister and hugged her in apology. She never bit again.
Never does a child need to be shown love more than when s/he misbehaves. Yet often our actions leave the misbehaving child feel unworthy of love and betrayed by a person they love most.
I don’t believe that most children are willfully naughty. When a child misbehaves, there are a number of typical reasons:
- It’s a bid for attention
- The child’s curiosity and experimentation got him or her into trouble
- The child was bored and needed stimulation
- The child simply didn’t understand the situation and consequences
Whatever the reason, punishing the child without both of you understanding what was going on in his or her mind works against successful parenting. Once you understand, you may decide simply to talk it over, or if the action deserves punishment, why not let the child help decide what that should be? I know that sounds radical, but it helps the child understand the impact of his or her actions and shoulder some of the responsibility for it.
On another occasion, we had just moved into a new home when one daughter started peeling decor off a window. In talking with her, I discovered that, with all of the moving activity going on, she felt neglected and left out. I understood the problem and took steps to make her feel more involved, but couldn’t let the action go unpunished because she knew she shouldn’t have done it. It was willful misbehavior. So we decided together that her punishment should be to clean the windows. To this day, she remembers the incident, not with shame, but with a sense of humor and understanding of herself.
So the next time your child misbehaves, try a little tenderness and talk through the behavior. You’ll get a better understanding of your child and it will work toward building your relationship.