Guest post by Lynn Reilly
“There’s no such thing as a bad boy or a bad girl, only bad behavior which we choose.”
- Lynn Reilly
Yes, I just quoted myself.
It’s a line used frequently in my house; one which my children are well versed in. They’ve said it to friends, to each other, and to me.
It’s an opinionated truth we hold on to and a lesson we remind ourselves when ready to fire off on why so and so is blankety, blank, blank, and we attempt to deem them as “bad.”
The reality is we all choose bad behaviors at times. All of us. But do we see ourselves as bad, incorrigible or derelicts of society? I hope not.
Most often kids are labeled as bad when they consistently choose behaviors that make others uncomfortable. It could be talking back, using inappropriate and crass language, hitting, bullying, lying, stealing, etc., and get away with it enough to continue.
But the question is why are they acting out? How are the negative behaviors benefiting them?
To answer these questions we need to look directly at the behavior and see what’s behind it. The key to being a good investigator is asking the right questions.
For example, every time Jimmy comes home from school he is supposed to sit down and do his homework. He takes out his homework each day and puts it on the table.
It appears that Jimmy is doing his homework regularly, but his teacher later reports that Jimmy almost never turns his homework in. Why is Jimmy lying about doing his homework and pretending to get it done?
Mother: Jimmy, why aren’t you doing your homework?
Jimmy: I don’t know. (Sometimes they really don’t know how to identify the why’s, or he thinks he’ll get in trouble with his reason, or he’s embarrassed to tell the reason.)
Mother: You’ve been pretending and lying about doing your homework. If we hear from your teacher again that you are not doing your homework, you will not be playing with friends for a very long time.
Understandable frustration. Most of us have been there, but let’s try that again.
Mother: How can we help you to get your homework done?
Jimmy: I don’t know.
Mother: What are the types of assignments you find difficult?
Jimmy: When I have to read.
Mother: When you are reading directions or when you are reading in books?
Jimmy: Reading in books.
Mother: Do the stories make you uncomfortable or is it the reading of words?
Jimmy: Reading the words.
After further conversation, turns out Jimmy is not confident in his reading ability.
He met the reading goal for his age group, so he was not identified as a student with reading concerns, but internally, he did not feel comfortable with his ability; therefore, he stopped doing his homework because it only made him feel worse about himself.
Nope. Just a kid who used a behavior to get him out something that was uncomfortable.
The key to getting to the root of the problem is asking the questions that dig a little deeper than the obvious.
Start with open-ended question that promote discussion like how and why, then move on to the yes or no, or direct questions that give you the information you need.
- How was school today? (If they answer, “Good,” have them define what it means.)
- Does good mean you learned something or did you have fun at recess?
- What did they talk about in US history class?
- Does anyone ever speak Spanish in your school?
- Who did you hang out with today?
Ask whatever it is you want to know, but in a way that gets them thinking and elaborating on their answers.
The more you learn how to ask the questions that get to the root of what you want to know, the better you will know your child and understand the way their mind works. So when those unpleasant behaviors do turn up, you will have the investigative skills to get the real answer to address it.
If this has changed the way you view child behavior, share it with others so they can learn to deal with their kids in a better way.
Lynn Reilly is a mother of 2 young children and a professional school counselor for adolescents. She shares her perspectives regularly on everyday parenting concerns, based on her professional counseling experiences. These are fused with personal parenting experiences using a blend of humor and reality in Perspective Parenting. Her blog is also the featured blog for this month (June).