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Helpful (And Not So Helpful) Beliefs Parents Have About Their Child’s Behavior

It is extremely rewarding and enjoyable to be a parent, but it’s not always easy. And sometimes we make it harder for ourselves by holding beliefs about our children’s behavior that are exaggerated, untrue—or sometimes just plain unhelpful.

When our children misbehave—whether it’s throwing toys or name calling—we sometimes look for a reason “why.” Many parents attribute their child’s behavior to one of the following beliefs: “It’s just a phase,” “They’re doing it on purpose,” or “It’s my fault. I am a bad parent.” But each of these beliefs has its flaws and can make a parent’s job harder. Let’s take a look at why.

“It’s just a phase.” While it’s true that many behaviors we see in children are a part of typical development, we can still play a role in providing guidance and coaching to help them grow to the next more mature behavior. If we ignore it, our children don’t have the opportunity to learn what to do instead.

  • Instead, consider: Always consider your child’s age and developmental stage when assessing how to respond to an undesirable behavior. Some behaviors will be perfectly normal for that particular stage of life, while others will not. But even if it’s normal for a toddler to feel upset when they can’t get a toy at the store, it’s still important that you respond to their behavior in that moment—eventually, they’ll learn what’s expected of them.

“They’re doing it on purpose.” Yes, sometimes children do things on purpose to get a reaction from us. It might be something as simple as your infant dropping their sippy cup on the floor to see how you react or a more complex situation like your 8-year old slamming doors in the house. Whether or not they are actually doing it on purpose is less important than how you respond to it, and when parents hold this belief, it tends to make them feel angry or overreact to the situation.

  • Instead, consider: Children are like scientists. They are constantly learning, trying to discover how the world works, how people work, cause and effect, etc. And, really, that’s their job as a kid. Your job is to gently guide them through their process of learning and discovery—being mindful of their safety, their developmental stage, other people’s emotions and safety, as well as the values you want to teach them.

“It’s all my fault. I am a bad parent.” Blaming ourselves and thinking “we are not good parents” only makes it harder for us to be patient, calm, and consistent with our children.

  • Instead, consider: Each child is born with a unique temperament. Some children are more outgoing, some are slow to warm up around others; some kids are adventurous, while others like to play it safe. You can’t change your child’s temperament, but you can help them harness their powers and abilities for good, while also helping them in the areas that are challenging for them, such as being patient, taking turns, keeping hands to themselves, and so forth. While we do this important work, it can make a big difference to talk to ourselves with kindness and compassion. Try having a phrase on hand that resonates with you. An example would be “This is hard. I’m doing the best I can.” or “I’m learning and I can try again.”

Food for thought

Instead of dwelling on what’s not working in your family right now, pat yourself on the back for what is working. Does your child help with chores? That’s awesome! Does your toddler show gentle affection to their baby brother? That’s amazing! Does your child say “please” and “thank you?” Wow! If you take a moment to reflect on the amazing parts of your child’s personality, as well as your day-to-day interactions with them, you’ll find lots of things to be proud of as a parent.

This article is brought to you by Parenting Now! Parenting Educators and authors Amanda Bedortha, Claire Davis and Lynne Swartz and consultant Jay Thompson (andupdatemywebsite.com). 

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