Do we react to children’s behaviour, or what we think their intention is behind the behaviour? Do we have a preconceived notion of what drives children, and could this be impacting upon the way we respond to them?
The way we think about children can affect our relationship with them. Three beliefs that can influence our response to our children are outlined below.
- Our belief on the nature of children
If we think that children:
- are naughty by nature
- deliberately want to press your buttons
- can’t be trusted
- always try to ‘win’ over you
- when given an inch, will take a mile
- deliberately manipulate you.
Then we will have little choice but to react defensively – even aggressively. How can we respond as we might wish, with respect and concern, if we have an underlying view that children cannot be trusted?
- Our attribution of intent
When we ‘attribute intent’, we make assumptions about the reasons for our children’s behaviour. Problems occur when we assign a deliberate negative intent (or ‘hostile’ intention) to our children’s behaviour.
Let’s take the example of Liam, a 6-year-old boy who is playing in the sand pit and does not come into the house when called. His carer says “Stop ignoring me!” This implies that Liam is intentionally not responding to her request. Her assumptions about the reason for him not responding might include:
- “he just wants to make me angry”, or
- “he’s just trying to press my buttons”
In all of these presumptions, the carer has taken Liam’s actions personally. If she acts on any of these assumptions, she may blame Liam, and say or do something that will impact badly on their relationship.
- That children do not misbehave, but instead behave to meet a need
Imagine if our fundamental parenting principle was that children do not misbehave. Imagine we were guided the understanding that children behave simply to meet their needs. We would stop blaming. We would not take their behaviour personally. We would know they were innocent and competent. We would recognise that our disagreements with our children were a result of our needs conflicting with theirs.
Our relationship would be one of respect and warmth.
Liam may have been so engrossed in his game that he simply did not hear his carer. Alternatively, his needs might include:
- He is enjoying building the best sandcastle he has ever built
- He has only been home for half an hour, and after a busy day he needs to regroup.
He did not ‘ignore’ his carer. He simply behaved in accordance with his need at the time. If his carer understands that there is no negative intention, their relationship will be enhanced.
Understanding ourselves – how we think of children; what we think their intentions are; and whether we could simply believe they behave to meet a need – will influence our relationship with our children.
To do this, we may need to look deeper. What has shaped our values, our beliefs, the way we react to our children’s behaviour? We may be influenced by the way we were parented, by our friends, our culture, or our partner. Books such as Parenting from the Inside Out by Daniel Siegel, and When Your Kids Push Your Buttons by Bonnie Harris, are useful resources in our quest to understand ourselves, and then to understand our children.