We Need Help! Understanding Mistaken Behaviors to Help Children

Posted by Jill Telford and Berna Artis

Tell me and I will forget.  Teach me and I may remember. Show me and I learn.

-Benjamin Franklin

Often times, adults forget that they were once children. We all forget something sometimes. When grown ups listen and are present in the moment with children, children teach us how to be one again. Children notice when we are present in the moment and are intuitive of who we are and will act accordingly. Grown ups often set high expectations for children that are unachievable, unrealistic and age inappropriate. How many times do we hear an adult judging a child’s behavior without having all of the facts and details? Most of all, hearing an adult labeling a child without trying to really know or understand the child or his/her family. Most of us hear and experience bad days our children and students’ have. It hurts to see a child being labeled without an understanding or an attempt at understanding his or her challenging behavior. When we are attuned, we pay attention to the facts and details. Some of them are:

  • Child’s age
  • How they learn
  • Who they are
  • What interests them (what do they care about?)
  • Type of family or household he or she comes from
  • Limitations and other special situations of the child
  • Temperament
  • Capacity
  • Ability
  • Cultural differences

When we envision the world we want peace and happiness. This is unrealistic. This is the same for a classroom of preschoolers! We are human. Our classrooms are filled with humans. Humans are filled with feelings, thoughts, ideas and emotions. We are all so very different and are all in a process of becoming during childhood and even throughout adulthood. Remember this when a child spills something, “talks back”, makes a mess or cannot control his or her emotions. Do we want statues and followers? Or do we want leaders, movers and shakers?

In the Little Prince, the narrator has a hard time comprehending grown-ups in the same way I believe grown-ups have a hard time understanding children. A huge lesson and quote from this story is how “Grown ups like numbers. When you tell them about a new friend, they never ask questions about what really matters. They never ask: What does his voice sound like? What games does he like best? Does he collect butterflies? They ask: How old is he? How many brothers does he have? How much does he weigh? How much money does his father make? Only then do they think they know him.” The lesson is ultimately summed up by “Children should be very understanding of grown ups.” Likewise, grown ups should be understanding of children (and this can count towards each other as well). Understanding, connection and building a strong reciprocal, caring relationship is key without judgment or labels.

littleprince

However, adults can be quick at judging and labeling the behavior and child; as hyperactive, aggressive, slow, incapable, apathetic, troublemaker, bad, disrespectful…the list is long and goes on and on. While these labels are extremely hurtful to the child and his or her family, it is also damaging to his or her self-esteem, personal growth and sense of self worth. In reality, they are children who lack experience in that particular area, they do not know the difference between right and wrong therefore they make mistakes and false judgments. Nine out of ten children do not know any better. Children are learning and in a process of becoming. They are not motivated and challenged enough. Especially when they are labeled, constantly told that they can’t do something coupled with consequences right away. 

Like any other human being, children want to be a part of a group. They want and need the sense of belonging. They want to be understood. They want to impress others especially the ones in their immediate circle such as family members, friends and teachers. They want attention and a lot of it! They develop skills and behaviors according to their social relationships. Sometimes, they act like a super hero because it is cool to save the world, fly or to destroy the enemy. How about a child who is coping with a family member’s death, his dad’s violence at home, or being bullied? How about a child who does not get enough sleep because parents work long hours and it is late by the time they go home to eat and do homework? Imagine what can happen when a child lacks experience to deal with frustration, fear, and inability to identify and or control feelings.  Imagine a grown up in your life whom lacks coping skills as well. Children grow into grown ups.

Often, adults misunderstand these challenging interactions and behaviors. At times they are not understood at all. In the end, the child is punished in the learning and developmental stages. Rules and setting limits are necessary but a constant power approach is not. What can we as adults do to understand each child, let it be in our homes, in a classroom or a school? Patience, understanding, compassion and guidance are four significant constructive corner stones of forming a relationship with a child. It is trying different ways to reach him or her where he or she is. Then guiding children where they are going. Giving opportunity and support to children is crucial in developing their self-esteem, self confidence, love of learning, respect for others, courage, resiliency, creativity, empathy, sympathy and trust.

Any time families, educators or communities are faced with challenging and mistaken behavior rise up to the challenge, show compassion, care and let’s ask questions to understand. Questions we can ask are: where is Johnny from? Who is Johnny? What does Johnny like to do? When did Johnny start this challenging behavior? Why is Johnny doing this? What are we going to do about it? For some, a simple answer is to reprimand leading up to removing the problem. That’s the easy way out. However, if we work hard at understanding, connecting with, helping, supporting and reaching Johnny then we can change his whole trajectory. If we teach him to solve his problems as opposed to running away he will become one powerful man. When we are there for the good times and the bad times then we pass that kind of thing on to Johnny and then Johnny passes that kind of thing on to someone else. Frederick Douglas has said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” Often we hear: “My son’s/daughter’s teacher said they were disruptive and misbehaving” leading to a consequence. “I have to go in for a meeting with his/her teachers”.   When do we hear: “My son’s/daughter’s teacher said they created something incredible and were proud of it” or “You know he/she is quite the conversationalist! Let’s set up a meeting to talk about it!”

When a child acts out, those disruptions and misbehaviors are really mistaken and challenging behaviors. There is often and always a reason a child is doing something. Even as adults we can relate to when we are not ourselves or we need help. Let’s help our children who are still learning how to ask for help. Next time you see a child’s mistaken behavior know it is his or her way of saying “I need your help!” Let’s work together to advocate, understand and help our children. Then they will understand themselves. When we do this we are helping our world be a little better off than it once was.

love

 

 

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