Meeting Needs Without Reinforcing Bad Behavior

Well, this is a conundrum. If we believe behavior is communication and we need to communicate with our kids to meet their needs, how does this work exactly? Here’s how the process usually goes down within traditional parenting:

  1. Child misbehaves
  2. Parent reacts
  3. Parent punishes
  4. Child gets quiet
  5. Parent lectures

Part of the trouble with addressing needs in the midst of undesirable behavior may be, in part, a struggle to break free from traditional parenting. We can’t “let” a child “misbehave”, right? Wait… can we? Can we give our children space to behave in ways that would have gotten us whooped? I believe so. That’s how we get a pulse on how our kids are feeling when other forms of communication escape them. And, it means that #1 in the process above is bunk.

How about #2? As peaceful parents, our goal is to respond, not react, so that won’t work. #3? That’s a big problem since we don’t punish either. #4 sounds nice, in theory, but shutting our kids down is the last thing we want to do when we need their input, so that’s also a no. And, then #5? I’m sure you can understand why lecturing children is pointless when what they need is understanding and a few new skills.

Let’s recreate that process for the peaceful parent:

  1. Child indicates distress through behavior
  2. Parent responds gently, halting destructive behavior and offering empathy
  3. Parent helps child re-center, giving space for upset and voice to emotions
  4. Child self-regulates
  5. Parent and child get to the bottom of the problem and find a way through

I try to become curious and invested rather than ignoring or controlling when I see my children behaving in a way that does harm, and I will tell you, it’s hard for me. It’s hard to manage my own emotions when I feel like my children aren’t heeding my words. I feel disrespected sometimes as they have such leeway to process their feelings in the way that works best for them. I wasn’t granted that kind of generosity of spirit as a child. I was parented in a harsh and traditional manner. Sure, I shut my mouth and appeared to obey, but my heart grew darker every time I was coerced, manipulated, or otherwise psychologically manhandled. It became so easy to lie to my parents as I got older. I knew that if I fell in line and acted like I was doing what they wanted from me, they’d eventually leave me alone.

Today, I am an adult who pushes everyone away when I’m feeling emotional. Anger is my predominant feeling too. Peaceful parenting tends to churn up all the old junk I was never allowed to process and it hurts so much. I often feel a tremendous urge to hit and slap my children when they’re doing things I don’t like. It would come so naturally. But, I don’t, because I don’t want my children to go through what I’m going through.

I want them to feel heard, supported, and loved. I want them to learn what they need most to find equilibrium when life gets hard. I want them to find solutions to their problems that do the least possible harm to anyone, including them. And, I know that affection and gentleness do not reinforce “bad” behavior. They comfort the human behind the behavior and sooth troubled hearts.

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