Why Can't They Just Behave? Here's Your Answer

I'm all for discipline and sometimes that is the only necessary path. But I think a lot of our frustration, our cries of "why can't they just behave," aren't really about behavior at all.
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It's not an Oscar-caliber performance, but it's still quite a show. You've seen it -- or starred in it! It features two characters. One is a screaming child, throwing a good, old-fashioned fit. The other is an embarrassed parent.

Though it can happen anywhere -- the middle of the grocery store, in line at the post office, a restaurant, Target or church -- I've found the live public performance to be far more exciting than anything you ever get to see at home. The frazzled mom wants silence. Yet no amount of coercing, threatening or correcting will stop the tears. She attempts a "Hail Mary" to make the noise (and stares) go away... a bribe. But even promises of M&M's, gummy snacks, or princess movies bomb. Big time. So what's the trick to getting your children to stop throwing fits?

Or to sit still when the social situation mandates it?

Or to not pout when they don't get their own way?

Ever wonder: Why can't they just behave?

As a mother of four young children, I'll give you two great reasons as to why. First, it's because they aren't little adults. And yet, (second), it's because they are exactly like us.

If you are disappointed with that answer, I encourage you to keep reading. Getting to the "why" behind their behavior allowed me to see the world through their eyes and change my perspective. This has made a huge difference in how I handle their perceived inability to cooperate.

Now, please don't misunderstand. I'm all for discipline and sometimes that is the only necessary path. But I think a lot of our frustration, our cries of "why can't they just behave," aren't really about behavior at all. Often times what we treat as a behavior issue is more accurately classified as a normal emotional response. Our children are sad, hurt, angry, scared, tired or frustrated and our response sounds like: Stop that. Don't have {that reaction}... You can't feel that way! (Or, worse, "Don't respond that way because it's embarrassing me...")

Just a few years ago, my entire kiddo crew was under the age of 5. I took all four to the grocery store regularly and admittedly, we looked like we had just escaped from the circus.

What helped me make it through the whines and cries, as well as the glares and "you've got your hands full" comments, was reminding myself that they are, indeed, just children. Expecting them to stay still or quiet for too long was unrealistic.

My ability to deal with their grocery store performance changed dramatically once I was able to put myself in their little Stride Rites. I am certain that I could not stay still (and quiet) in a grocery cart for an hour on a mission that was not my own. In fact, forget the cart. I've been a part of many meetings where even a comfortable chair was not enough to keep me sitting silent and stationary for long.

And that's my second point. Our children are not immune to emotional response. They are just like us. While I want them to respond "correctly" to the adversities they face, I still struggle to handle many of those same challenges well.


For example, countless times each week I instruct my older children to "use their words." I explain how difficult it is for mommy to meet their needs if they just fuss and cry. I implore them to speak clearly as to what is wrong so that I can try to make the situation better.

Obvious, right?

And, yet... sometimes, when I get mad, what do I do? I clam up. I get so tight lipped that my husband couldn't crack my mouth open with a crowbar, yet alone get me to vocalize what it is I'm upset about. Shouldn't he just KNOW?

Maybe it would be easier for him to meet my needs if I would just use MY words.

The times when I don't get my way... Ugh! I'll admit (with some embarrassment) I can act a wee bit childish when my recommendation gets rejected. What? We aren't going to go the restaurant I chose for tonight? You aren't making the improvements to the program that I suggested?

I may not physically throw myself on the floor. But on the inside, I turn-off. Disconnect. Disengage. In my head, I'm screaming that if they would do it my way it would be so much better. I secretly plot ways in which I may not cooperate with their alternative plan.

Tantrum? (Guilty)

Things that cause major tears at our house like Lego projects that get destroyed or dolls that lose body parts are all somewhat trivial tribulations -- to me. I know most of these problems are fixable. So, my first instinct is to be upset that they are over-reacting. Stop crying over broken towers. We'll rebuild! We can always go buy another princess dress, just like the ripped one...


Yet, when someone spills a strawberry smoothie on my carpet or when my husband accidentally throws away just one of my favorite earrings {hypothetically speaking}, I get a little emotional. Though I intellectually understand the right cleaning products will help or I can buy some new earrings, I'm still upset that my stuff was damaged.

Or what about this one? Does your child get upset when you leave places like the Chick fil-A playground or a friend's house? I'm certain no adult has that struggle. Just please don't ask my husband how I cried for the first 30 minutes of our drive home after two weeks at the beach last summer.

Why can't they just behave? Well, maybe it's because they're human, just little people learning how to deal with many of the same things we big people deal with. If we remember that they are just children, I think it frees us to respond to them with the love and acceptance they need to handle the tough stuff in life.

This post was originally published on the Dallas Moms Blog.

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