What is Misbehaviour?

Misbehavior is often nothing more than a lack of knowledge or a lack of effective skills. In many cases, what seems like misbehavior is really developmentally appropriate behavior. Most of the time, young children are just acting their age—not misbehaving.

The problem is we don’t have enough knowledge about human behavior and child development, and thus treat age appropriate behaviors as misbehavior. It is disheartening when young children who are being punished for behavior that is developmentally appropriate e.g. a toddler being punished for being naughty when their brains have not yet developed sufficiently to comprehend what is expected of them.

The basis for most misbehavior is discouragement based on a belief of not belonging and/or not feeling significant. Children want to feel significant and have a sense of belonging and when they feel they are not getting that from their parents, do things to get the attention they feel they deserve.

They communicate in codes and unless adults know how to break the code—children will continue feeling like they do not belong and they will keep seeking attention in ways that parents will tag “misbehaving”. It is a vicious circle.

Sometimes it is difficult for us, as parents and teachers, to remember that misbehaving children are speaking to us in code—that they are trying to tell us they want to belong when their behavior inspires frustration rather than love and caring.

Some experts believe we will reinforce the behavior if we respond positively to a child who is misbehaving. If, however, we understand that a misbehaving child is a discouraged child, it is obvious that the best way to remove the motivation for misbehavior is to find a positive way to help the child feel belonging and significance.

The essence of positive discipline is to equip parents with the tools to decode their child’s behaviour. Tools like Connection before correction, Listening, Special time, Family meetings will all serve their purpose.

When children misbehave, there is usually a reason. They may be tired, hungry, frustrated, seeking attention, testing limits, hurt or wanting control.

When your child is acting up, you would feel different emotions depending on the circumstances surrounding the situation. You may feel angry, guilty, hopeless, hurt, disappointed and the way you feel often determines how you will react to your child.

When you are angry, you yell. When you feel guilty, you pamper but these will not make the problem go away. Your reaction might actually feed or fuel your child’s misbehaviour.

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As Rudolf Dreikurs said, “A misbehaving child is a discouraged child.”

The four mistaken beliefs and mistaken goals of behavior are:

  1. Undue Attention (The mistaken belief: I belong only when I have your attention.)
  2. Misguided Power (The mistaken belief: I belong only when I’m the boss, or at least when I don’t let you boss me.)
  3. Revenge (The mistaken belief: I don’t belong, but at least I can hurt back.)
  4. Assumed inadequacy (The mistaken belief: It is impossible to belong. I give up.)

It was narrated from ‘Abdullah bin Shaddad that his father said: “The Messenger of Allah (SAW) came out to us for one of the nighttime prayers, and he was carrying Hasan or Husain. He (SAW) came forward and put him down, then he said the Takbir and started to pray. He prostrated during his prayer, and made the prostration lengthy.” My father said: “I raised my head and saw the child on the back of the Messenger of Allah (SAW) while he was prostrating so I went back to my prostration. When the Messenger of Allah (SAW) finished praying, the people said: “O Messenger of Allah (SAW) you prostrated during the prayer for so long that we thought that something had happened or that you were receiving a revelation.’ He said: ‘No such thing happened. But my son was riding on my back and I did not like to disturb him until he had had enough.

Some of the essentials of upbringing are kindness and mercy. Be in control of yourself when disciplining. Sometimes we go overboard in our attempts to discipline. The home becomes a military camp with strict rules being enforced all the time. It is advisable that we tamper their discipline with gentleness and loved mercy as exemplified by the Prophet (SAW).

Like Dr Jane Nelsen suggested, most parents don’t understand that there is a belief behind every behaviour. They make the mistake of trying to change just the behavior. The behaviour will stop only when the belief behind the behavior is changed.

For instance, A baby comes home with mummy from the hospital and the older sibling feels ignored. The older sibling believes that her mother loves the baby more because she gets all mommy’s attention; the older sibling will keep seeking attention and will only stop when the mother identifies the need behind the behaviour and uses positive parenting tools like family meeting, listening and special time to make the child feel loved and part of the family.

Another example. Imagine you are on the phone and your child is interrupting. You feel annoyed. You scold your child for interrupting. He/she stops for a few minutes and then starts again because what she needs is your attention and she feels like she will only get it when she interrupts.

See? So how do we break the code?

You can break the code and understand what your child really needs to feel encouraged. You can only succeed in stopping a behaviour when you are able to find out why the child acts the way he does.

Steps to Break the Code

  1. Assess the challenging behaviour you are experiencing with your child.
  2. Identify your feelings.
  3. Describe what you usually do in response to the challenging behaviour?
  4. Now get into your child’s world.
    • How would you feel if you were a child and your parent did or said what you did or said?
    • What would you be thinking?
    • What would you be feeling?
    • What would you decide to do? (This is a clue to the belief behind the action.)
  1. This is the point where you break the code by identifying what the child needs.
  2. Journal about the results of what you did. If it didn’t seem to work to change the behaviour, is it possible that your child is at least making a new decision?

As parents, we are quick to jump to conclusions about our children’s behaviour.

We are quick to yell and punish or smother but we will notice that these methods do not work because the situation will keep repeating itself.

When you are able to break the code of misbehaviour, you and your children will develop a healthier, respectful relationship no matter their age.

I hope you have learnt something. If yes, would you like to join me in the Parenting for Jannah Academy? You should join the waitlist HERE to be notified when next we are open.