Your kindergartner calls you a poopy-head. Your 8-year-old rolls his eyes and lays the sass on thick. Your 3-year-old gets up from the dinner table incessantly. Your toddler won't stop sticking her fingers up her nose.
These are perfect examples of kids being kids -- certainly in ways that irritate adults, but they are such typical behaviors, teachers use the term developmentally appropriate to describe them. How you react, or better yet, respond, will influence not only how often you'll see these actions, but how children feel about themselves for exhibiting them. When we shame, bribe, punish and lecture, we send the message that they are wrong for acting in these normal, though undesirable, ways.
What happens when parents can stay relaxed in these button-pushing situations? Playful, humorous responses are possible: "What? Poopy-head again? Oh man, I guess I'll have to go wash my hair," done in a sing-song Mary Poppins-ish rant about respecting one's elders. A smiling, warmhearted, pretend "gluing" of your preschooler's bum to the chair, with lots of hugs when they try to escape over and over again. "Wait, let me grab a flashlight and see if I can find the boogers up there."
End result? Kids calm themselves and cooperate more readily since you're connecting, validating and offering unruffled guidance with a healthy dose of fun. Here are three more reasons to allow for unruly behavior from your kids:
1. Humans are multifaceted. How uncool would it be if there was nowhere you could go and just relax? Think about your work persona vs. your home life -- you probably have very different ways of operating in the public and private spheres. This is normal. I call it situational awareness -- meaning you know when you can act certain ways, and with whom. My son has been taught that teachers (and most grown-ups) don't appreciate potty language. However, we get a ton of stress-reducing giggles talking about farts in the privacy of our own home. Much like teaching "queen's" manners for the times they will need them, we can also help children discern (with friendly reminders) which environments permit what behavior.
2. Obedience can be scary. We don't want children to blindly comply in all cases. Statistics show that in 88% of sexual abuse cases, children know the perpetrator (and often know them well). Teaching young people to thoughtlessly follow instructions is not the best plan. Inevitably, they will reach a point where they need to trust their gut to distinguish whether or not compliance is warranted (think the teen years!).
3. You'll avoid power struggles. If you relax your expectations and anxiety when kids act up, you can meet their unwanted behavior with kind, and even light-hearted guidance. Understanding child and brain development will help you find the parenting approach your little ones need from you. Believe it or not, there are three distinct brain states humans cycle through, and we need to tailor our parental guidance to fit with the particular brain(s) in front of us.
Imagine your intimate partner is intolerant of casual at-home behavior like kicking up your feet or eating a burrito with your hands. Pretend you have to wear makeup and business attire on Saturday mornings. Good thing we don't have to act civilized at all times, right? When we're in a worried frenzy to produce socially acceptable children, we push our kids beyond their developmental learning edge, and encourage them to blow past their internal signals and good sense.
Fascinating research shows that both the dangling carrot (reward), and the poke with the stick (punishment), are ineffective at motivating humans. These outdated, fear-based methods will produce an externally motivated people-pleaser, not a self-referencing, emotionally regulated person. When you pull back from these two common methods for child-raising, you have to rely on something else to inspire "proper" behavior. How about trust, connection, relationship, guidance and love?
Learn more ways to reframe defiant and annoying child behavior so you can parent with a sense of humor at www.sarahmaclaughlin.com