Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Misbehavior - Explain it or Stop it

Recently I was talking to a grandmother who related the story of her 7 year old granddaughter and her increasingly outrageous behavior.  She is kicking her mom and grandma, screaming and screeching throughout the house and defying her mom in every possible way.
Grandma asked her if she behaved this way at school; to which she replied, wide-eyed: “NO, Grandma, that would be naughty”….  So she knows the difference between acceptable and unacceptable.  And she has the self control to handle herself responsibly from the time she gets on the bus in the morning until she gets home in late afternoon. 
What is going on here? The underlying tragedy in this home is that her father died of brain cancer a year ago.  It was a sudden onset illness from which he died in only 3 months.  The disruption in this little girl’s home turned her and her little brother’s life upside down.
The family has handled this horrible situation as well as they possibly can.  Grandparents and family friends have surrounded them with assistance and love; Mom’s employer gave her the time she needed to begin picking up the pieces again; there are good, safe plans in place for school communication, after school care and a few community activities.
At this point, it is time for this little girl to be required to follow her Mom’s leadership at home.  It is time for Mom to put in place basic rules and basic consequences. In short, it is time to stop “letting her off the hook” for her misbehavior in the mistaken belief that because of her father’s death, she is forever damaged and can’t be expected to become responsible for herself.  Does this sound harsh?  Look at Mom.  She is grieving and devastated, yet she now has resumed working, raising her children and being a civil, warm human being.  She is even allowing herself to begin having some fun.  She is in a word, healing, and therefore able to accept her life as it is.  Should it be any different for her young daughter?
In helping this child to regain her responsibilities and success in the family, she will become more secure and feel far safer than she does now.  The longer she is allowed to misbehave, the more worried and anxious she is going to become, digging the hole of misbehavior deeper and deeper; it is time to nip this in the bud.
Providing children with basic, secure guidelines for their behavior is a loving gift.  In today’s society, we are far too likely to explain children’s bad behavior away with a label – she is a victim, she is ADHD, she is a stepchild, she is gifted, she is an adopted child. All are examples of our sympathy and understanding crossing over into enabling, if not promoting, irresponsible or even, anti-social behavior.
Children are children first, and labels cover only a small fraction of who they are.  Parent the whole child with basic, clear guidelines in the home and they will respond positively – after all, “it would be naughty” not to.