Tag Archives: behavior

Matching Behavior and Consequence

When a child doesn’t know how to do math, we teach them.  When a child doesn’t know how to read, we teach them.  When a child doesn’t know how to behave, we punish them.  What’s wrong with this picture?

This blog is a summary of a fascinating interview I did with my friend Bradley McCallister on the Let’s Parent on Purpose Podcast.  Bradley has a Masters in Christian Counseling and has worked with foster and adoptive parents for five years with Bethany Christian Services as a licensed professional counselor.  Additionally, he and his wife are recent adoptive parents of a special needs teenager from Ethiopia.

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I HIGHLY recommend you actually listen to the podcast, as well as checking out Bradley’s company Redirected Wood Company, which supports his family’s adoptive journey though costume made reclaimed wood projects.

All kids are different, but many parents reading this have children who have been brought into their homes from traumatic backgrounds.  As Bradley states in the interview, researchers have found that with these kids, punishing behavior doesn’t actually get them to change their behavior.  It might encourage them to isolate or get sneakier with it, but not necessarily change it.  Even with kids that have “normal” backgrounds, we must remember that our goal is never to simply get our kids to “stop doing that”.  There’s some behavior we would much rather them do.

There’s no way to give an exhaustive list of behaviors and consequences here.  So I’ll nail down the main principal and then highlight a few examples.

  • Your ultimate goal is to train appropriate behavior in your child.  There’s a spiritual parallel.  In our sanctification process as followers of Jesus, God’s goal for our lives is not that we would simply “stop sinning”.  It’s that we would live righteously, evidenced by our love of God and love of others.  God wants us to put off the old man and put on the new man.  You want your child to put off these unacceptable behaviors and put on appropriate and helpful ones.
  • One of the recurring mistakes we make as parents is to meet unacceptable emotional behavior with unacceptable emotional behavior.  If a child (or teen) is inappropriate in their attitudes, emotions, or level of respect they show us, the LEAST helpful thing we can do is blow up at them, emotionally cut them down, or go over the top with consequences exponentially worse than the crime.  In essence, when we do that we are teaching them that whoever is bigger and stronger gets to physically and emotionally force others to do what they want.  We are training them to blow up on their wives, their kids, their coworkers, and their friends.  (Hey, I am writing this as truth.  And it’s true that I’m guilty.  I’ve got three children within 30 months in age.  I’ve overreacted PLENTY).
  • In general, our standard with unacceptable behavior should be
    1. Swallow your boiling emotions and pray for God’s grace
    2. Call out the unacceptable behavior specifically, explaining why it’s not acceptable and what would be acceptable.
    3. Provide a reality based consequence (example: in the real world if you don’t pay your house payment you get your house repossessed.  In the home if you don’t do your chores you lose your opportunity to go places because work affords us the opportunity to play).
    4. When appropriate provide an opportunity for them to redo the behavior correctly.
    5. Celebrate and affirm the correct behavior.
    6. In all of this, treat them with love and respect, because, in the big picture, this is a more important character trait than perfect performance at tasks.

So what should you do when…

  • Your children are arguing and fighting with one another?
    • Explain how this is unacceptable because everyone in your house is way too valuable to fight with.  Suggest ways they can encourage one another and build each other up.  Since their fighting is causing stress in your life, give them jobs they must do together to receive stress from your life.  They will likely buck and fight, so just keep giving them more consequences to do together until the lightbulb clicks that they get their time and freedom back when they learn to work together.
  • Your child is stealing
    • Stealing is a huge breach of trust.  A matching behavior should match the loss of trust.  For example, rather than being allowed to go out and be with friends, explain “unfortunately, since you are stealing, I’m not able to have you out of my line of sight.  So you’re going to stay here with me and we will have to figure out things for you to do where I’m able to watch you until we can build trust again.”  Or perhaps, the consequence might include selling or giving away some of the child’s possessions to make up for the financial loss of what they stole.
  • Your child is disrespectful towards you.
    • Remember that behavior should make you curious.  If they are young, perhaps they don’t yet know that their behavior is disrespectful.  So you will need to instruct them, give them time to pause and think about it, and then give them an opportunity to try again.
    •  If they are older, perhaps they are modeling the lack of respect that the adults are showing in the home.  If mom and dad are biting and snappy with one another, or with their kids, its natural that you’re going to get that back. Talk to your teens, ask them where the emotions and snappiness are coming from.  Establish that its unacceptable for members of the house to talk to one another that way.  Give them chances to correct, and also begin to withhold privileges (nights out, driving them places, etc.) until they show they can improve.

It’s important to remember that most behaviors don’t happen overnight, and most aren’t going to be fixed the first time you give a consequence (just like your besetting sin issues have taken years to sanctify).  But hold on, stay consistent, and as you train up a child in the way they should go, when they are old, they won’t depart from it. Seems like I’ve heard that somewhere before….

For a more in depth analysis of this topic, be sure to check out LPOP 46: Matching Behavior and Consequence.


Behavior Should Make us Curious

This is such an important topic!!!  When our kids do some kind of unacceptable behavior, we tend to have the immediate goal of stopping the behavior.  This is like having a weed growing in your sidewalk and just cutting off the top. It’s going to come back.  We need to be concerned about the root cause.

If you don’t normally listen to the Let’s Parent on Purpose Podcast, I highly recommend you check out this week’s special interview with Bradley McCallister.

(Or click on the sidebar for iTunes, etc.)

My good friend and Christian Counselor Bradley McCallister has served as an adoptive counselor with Bethany Christian Services for the past five years.  He and his wife Brittany also recently adopted a 13 year old son from Ethiopia.  29 years old, and now the parent of a teenager from a different country.  Bradly has his Masters in counseling, but he’s getting his PhD. in life experience!  He and his wife have also started a business of making beautiful furniture and artwork out of reclaimed pieces of wood in order to spend more time with their son.  Check out their showroom and support them at www.redirectedwoodco.com.

Here are the highlights from our conversation:

  • When our kids do some kind of unacceptable behavior, we tend to have the immediate goal of stopping the behavior.  This is like having a weed growing in your sidewalk and just cutting off the top. It’s going to come back.  We need to be concerned about the root cause.
  • All behavior has a motivation.  We need to be curious as to why they are exhibiting this behavior.
    • We want to ask ourselves “why are they doing this?”  “what are they getting out of this behavior?”
    • In some circumstances we can ask them “why”?  But sometimes they might not be able to verbalize it or fully understand themselves.  As they get older, sometimes they might know the reasons why but feel ashamed, embarrassed, or fearful of explaining why.
    • The vast majority of unacceptable behaviors have the root of fear and sadness.
  • When dealing with unacceptable behaviors, we want to remember that our emotion is ONE tool in the toolbox.  It’s like a hammer.  Sometimes a job calls for a hammer.  But sometimes it calls for a screwdriver or wrench or pliers.  If you use a hammer for the wrong jobs, you do a lot of damage.
    • As exasperating as behaviors are, we need to work hard to swallow our emotions, deal with they symptoms, and get at the roots.  Our reactions train our children.  If we are dramatic, exasperated, and emotional every time something doesn’t go our way (like their behavior), we are training them that emotional tidal waves are the natural way to deal with life’s struggles.
    • When we respond with anger and exasperation, we also train them to keep secrets.
    • Again, sometimes our emotions can be powerfully effective, but other times they really get in the way of discovery and resolution of the root cause.
  • Discovery can be a process.  Sometimes you’re not going to be able to figure it out in the moment.  With boys especially, face to face conversations might not work.  Go on a drive together, throw a football, play a video game with each other.  As you’re doing something together, side by side, talk about the issue.  You might get much better feedback if they don’t have to look at you.
  • None of this excuses the behavior or negates the presence of sin.  But Jesus can be a model for us as he dealt with sinners.  With the woman at the well, Jesus didn’t come out of the gate chastising her immoral lifestyle.  He worked to built trust, openness, a ready heart to listen.  This doesn’t mean that at any time he was OK with her having five husbands or living with a man.  He simply drew out the conversation long enough to get at the deeper heart need.
  • Sometimes you might have to indulge behaviors (not sinful behaviors) to see where it goes.
    •  For instance, if you have a child who is insisting on baby talk far beyond an acceptable age, you don’t just want them to stop.  You want to understand what’s motivating them to do this.  You might try going along with it, treating them like a baby for a little bit.  Sometimes this is enough to get them to come out of it.  (I know, it sounds exasperating to me too).
    • Another example would be a teen that wants to dress sloppily, darkly, etc.  If they’re not dressing immorally, try going along with it for some time, resisting the urge to tell them “you look terrible,” “you’re not showing that you respect yourself”, or “you’re embarrassing me.”  Remember, they’re dressing that way for a reason.  If you can get past your initial resistance, you might create a safe space for them to open up to you on why they feel compelled to dress in that particular way.  Then you get to work on affirming what’s good in them and coaching them out of it.
  • Sometimes the bad behavior is exhibited because we don’t really pay attention and affirm good behavior.  Especially in homes with multiple kids, the well behaved chid can get overlooked.  To a kid, negative attention is still attention.  Proactively affirm the simple, normal, good things they do.  This might solve a lot of the problem.

This stuff is hard work, but it’s good work.  It’s what we signed up to do by bringing children into the world.  Work this week on discovering the “why” behind behaviors.  Listen to the podcast.  And next week, come back to hear part 2: Matching Behavior and Consequences.

Don’t forget, it’s a marathon, not a sprint!