When a child misbehaves the most common reaction for most parents is to follow up with a consequence. 9 times out of 10 this is the appropriate thing to do, and it will reduce the chance of the unwanted behaviour occurring again.
Children misbehave for a huge variety of reasons. They could be trying to test their boundaries, gain attention, assert some control over a situation, or perhaps be angry and frustrated about something. Sometimes if your child is misbehaving, you need to think about the underlying reasons and consider if a consequence is the right approach to decrease the behaviour. Young children are still learning emotional regulation, which is a skill we continue to practice throughout our whole life. A confused and emotional child may act out as a result of the way they are feeling.
A few days ago I was in the kitchen preparing dinner when my 3 year old came and asked me for something. I can’t remember what it was now, but my answer was no. She started to complain and stuck out her bottom lip, which I pretended not to notice and I continued with what I was doing. She moved in closer and started deliberately swinging her leg at me and gently connected with my shin. I didn’t say anything, but I took her hand and led her to the area we use for quiet time in the hallway then sat her down and squatted down to her level. I was about to use my usual strategy which would have been a brief explanation of why she was there, then ask her to stay there for 3 minutes.
I noticed her expression and her body language and changed my strategy. I asked her if she needed a cuddle, and she definitely did. Instead of needing a consequence she needed some emotional reassurance and support. We’d had a big week, it was mid-afternoon and she doesn’t have a day nap anymore, she was tired and she was needing me to spend some time with her. We sat down for a cuddle on the couch, then she sat up at the kitchen bench with a cup of milk and an apple.
If I had used the consequence and asked her to sit quietly for 3 minutes she probably would have become more emotional and the situation might have escalated. By showing compassion and understanding why she behaved the way that she did the whole situation was resolved calmly. She also learnt from my actions, and hopefully one day she will react with compassion towards a friend who is upset. Helping her through her emotions has been a big focus for me lately, and with lots of compassion and support she will soon improve her emotional control and find different ways to let me know that she needs some help.