The Parenting Coach: Ain’t Misbehaving

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So often parents are faced with kids ‘behaving badly’. Kids talk back, they yell, they kick and scream, and sometimes they even lie. When our children behave in ways we don’t like, our inclination is to make it stop… and fast. However, that instinct is more of a reflection of our needs than those of our kids. Deterrents, such as time-outs, and other punishments, are employed and are often, temporarily, effective.

But, let’s consider our own behavior. Is initiation into adulthood somehow an indicator that we have outgrown misbehaving? We all know enough adults who prove otherwise. The truth is, we all behave ‘badly’ at times. We might curse at someone who cut us off on the freeway. We might snap at someone we love because we’ve had a difficult day. We might pass up an opportunity to be of service to someone else, because we are feeling selfish or slighted. The key, though, is that our behavior is ALWAYS a reflection of how we are feeling. When we feel judged, guilty, angry, alone, attacked, rejected, frustrated or even physically ill, our behavior reflects that. Consider how much more likely we are to do something nice for someone else, when we are feeling really good about ourselves.

Imagine for a moment if, the next time you acted out, someone stepped in to punish you. Let’s imagine that a friend said something that you felt was insulting. Feeling criticized, you found yourself taking it out on your spouse or your kids. What if the behavior police came by and sent you to a corner? What if you were sent to your room without dinner? In what way would that punishment serve to resolve what was going on for you? The answer is that, not only would it not serve you, but it is also likely to exacerbate your hurt feelings, resulting in further disruptive behavior.

These types of traditional punishments tend to serve the adult rather than the child. Sending a disruptive child into a time-out or to their room is akin to sweeping the trash under the rug. Out of sight- out of mind. But, there are consequences to sweeping the kids under the rug.

1. The child’s initial hurt goes unresolved.

2. The child does not feel heard, understood, validated or supported by his parents.

3. The child associates his feelings with his behavior and, when the behavior is labeled as bad, he understands the underlying feelings to be bad, as well. He learns to stifle his emotions in order to avoid further punishment.

4. The punishment causes feelings of rejection that compound the initial hurt.

5. Without a healthy acknowledgement and awareness of how feelings manifest into behaviors, a child does not learn alternatives to express himself more effectively in the future.

6. The parent misses an opportunity to show unconditional love, build trust and become a true ally for the child.

Ultimately, the key is to focus on feelings, not behaviors. When we can help children understand their emotions, when we can validate and support them, they no longer need to act out.

Gila Brown, M.A. is a Child Development Expert and Parent Coach, with over 10 years of teaching experience. She specializes in parenting school-age children with grace, using principles of attachment parenting, positive discipline and effective communication. Visit to sign up for a free newsletter.

© Gila Brown, 2009

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About Karen Young

Karen Young is the founder of My Daily Find.

  • Bunny

    You’ve got to be kidding. This kind of mush-headed “let little Jimmy have his feelings while he destroys the wallpaper/deafens other people/etc.” is why no one in Los Angeles can go out in public without having some wild, untrained brat “expressing their feelings” and ruining their day. Kids need to be taught what is appropriate and what isn’t — not that the world revolves around them. Unreal.

  • Deborah

    Thanks for the article. Very enlightening.

  • Michelle

    I enjoyed reading this but the problem I find with all your articles/newsletters etc. is that it points out the wrong thing to do without ever giving suggestions on the right thing to do. I suppose the idea is that I should pay for your services, but we are not able to afford something like that and so I am just left feeling like I am doing the wrong thing with no idea of how to change it.

    • Gila Brown

      Hi Michelle,

      Thank you so much for your response. I really appreciate your honesty and will keep your comments in mind for future articles. With regard to this article, let me add this.

      When you child misbehaves:
      1) Take a moment (and a deep breath) before you respond. What do YOU think is causing this behavior?
      2) Get down at his level and make eye contact. (with compassion, not judgement)
      3) Say something to the effect of…” Honey, you must be very upset to be (hitting your sister). I can’t let you hurt her and I want to help you. Can you tell me why you’re upset? … Next time, what else can you do to let me know how upset you are?”

      The basic idea is that you need to focus on feelings first, behaviors second. When a child feels heard and understood, they no longer need to act and they become more willing to consider alternative expressions of their emotions.

      I hope this is helpful. I offer my newsletter subscribers the opportunity to email a parenting question to me, at no cost. I answer 1 question per email and, when appropriate, include the questions in future newsletters. If I can be of service to you in this way, please feel free to take advantage of the offer. Email me anytime at

      Be well,

  • R1 woman

    Great information, I just bookmarked you.

    Sent via Blackberry

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