When your child misbehaves, is your first reaction to get mad? Learn what to ask before disciplining your child with this one simple question.
Out of the blue, my toddler would hit his brother in the face, for no clear reason. Another one would throw little cars all over the table with no explanation given. They wouldn’t stop fussing or crying, regardless of my many attempts to soothe them.
Next thing I know, I was in discipline mode. I pointed out how their behavior was wrong, telling them to say “sorry” or forcing them to share the toy they were fighting over.
What to ask before disciplining your child
Even with all that discipline, I wasn’t seeing the teachable moment I was hoping for—the peace after the storm. Instead, my kids were even more miserable than before I got involved.
And so, I wondered if there was a better approach to understanding their behavior. One where it doesn’t seem like all I do is police them all day long.
I learned that there is, and it’s behind one simple question we can ask ourselves before disciplining. One question to change our mindset before reacting too quickly:
“Why is my child behaving this way?”
(Told you it was simple.)
Ask yourself why your child is acting the way she is. Simple as that. And when you do, you just might find several benefits:
1. You learn the real reason your child is upset
You’re forced to dive into the reason behind your child’s confusing or frustrating behavior. Sometimes you’ll come up with a simple answer like, “She must be hungry,” or “She skipped her nap today.”
But other times, the reasons aren’t obvious and you’ll need to consider her point of view.
When she misbehaves or does something you don’t want her to do, sometimes she’s simply curious or doesn’t even know she’s doing anything wrong.
From your point of view, she’s misbehaving when she’s coloring on the walls, but to her, she only wanted to know what happens when you rub a red stick on the wall. While you don’t want her to write on walls, you can still acknowledge her intent and honor the impulse.
Because most kids misbehave without intending to do so. They rarely defy us to get a response, express anger, or assert their control. They simply don’t know that some behaviors aren’t okay, or forgot the rules because they felt excited or curious.
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2. You’re forced to pause
Asking “why” helps you pause. You can parent mindfully when you take a breath and remove yourself from the situation. You’re more likely to assess the problem from all angles instead of reacting.
And with that quick pause, you’re responding, not reacting. You realize you don’t have to resort to disciplining or getting angry.
Instead you can redirect your child toward something more appropriate. “Why did she just dump that box of cereal on the floor? Maybe it’s because she was curious, not that she was purposefully being mischievous. Let me give her a box of Lego to play with instead.”
3. You’re showing empathy
When you ask “why” your child is misbehaving, there’s usually a reason you can empathize with.
Let’s say she made a mess on the way to returning her dishes to the sink. As much of a hassle it is to clean up the mess, you also see that she feels upset at herself for making a mistake, or scolded over an accident.
Perhaps she ran off to her room, screaming and slamming the door. As inappropriate as her behavior may be, asking “why” forces you to put yourself in her shoes. You can better see how she must be feeling, and how normal it is to react the way she did.
You can then acknowledge how she feels, helping her feel heard and understood, even if her behavior was wrong.
4. Your child feels less defensive
Listening and complying with your instructions can be difficult when she feels attacked and defensive. She might feel accused or guilty because she knows what she did wrong, but isn’t willing to “lose face” and admit her fault.
By asking yourself why she’s behaving that way, you can frame your conversation so she feels more open and willing to listen. You’re showing her that you’re on the same side, not out to prove her wrong.
Kids aren’t always trying to drive us mad. They’re exploring the world and discovering their surroundings in ways they know how.
By asking yourself why, you learn the real reasons your child feels upset and are forced to pause before reacting. This allows you to show empathy and consider her point of view and how she must feel. In doing so, she feels less defensive, making her more likely to listen and comply.
Asking yourself “why” can be difficult when you’re in that moment ready to react. But by doing so, you can be firm and kind, compassionate as you hold your ground. Yep, even if she hits her brother in the face for no clear reason.
Get more tips:
- How to Discipline a 4 Year Old When Nothing Seems to Work
- What to Do When Your Child Says No to Everything
- Parenting Your Strong-Willed Child
- Help Your Child WANT to Behave
- How to Discipline a Toddler Who Doesn’t Listen
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