Repeat misbehaviors in kids

Well, here it is, the 2nd part of the post that I started, what seems like, forever ago! Last time, I wrote about the importance of following through with what you say you will do. But every once in a while, one of our perfect little angels might “try” us by repeating a bad behavior over and over again. 

Now, as I write this, I am no expert. I am not a child psychologist or anything like that. Just a high school math teacher and a mom of 4! There may be deeper issues that what I talk about just won’t fix. 

If your child is repeating the same bad behavior over and over again, here are some ways to start off:

1. Check circumstances. Is there something new in their lives that is unsettling to them? Lots of times, kids will act out if there is a new sibling, new spouse, new school or house, just to make sure that they still have your attention. If you suspect this might be the case, spend a little one on one time and reassure them that you still love them. By the way, high schoolers need this, too! I’ve noticed, that as parents’ kids get older, the parents spend less time with the teenager, since they assume the kid wants no part of them. Of course, most teenagers won’t hang on every word their parent says, but they still need to feel valued and loved. The activities you do together may be different, but spending time together is so important- it keeps the lines of communication open.

2. Check their nature. Is there something your kid does that you have told them a 1000 times NOT to do? See if you can see why they might be doing it. Sometimes kids just get into bad habits. Maybe they want to change. My youngest daughter’s name is Aylee Ruth. When she was smaller, she had a bad habit of lying, so I made up this rhyme to tell her: “Aylee Ruth, tell the truth!” That little reminder gave her a 2nd chance in a low-key atmosphere to think about what she was saying. Was it really the whole truth? She then could fix her story as needed. Eventually, she got to the point where she would tell me the whole truth the first time, so I changed the rhyme to: “Aylee Ruth, Princess of Truth!”. She smiles so big every time I say that! Maybe their bad habit is not studying or doing their homework. This is a chance for parents to step in and share stories of their struggles and how they overcame. Sometimes, just sitting with a child while he/she does the homework assignment is incentive enough to do it! It is time spent with you! Be creative and see if you can find a way to help your kid overcome something that brings them down. 

3. Check the heart. OK, so there are no new circumstances and your child just flat out does not want to change. This is now a heart issue, and as parents, it is our job to shape the hearts of our kids. Here’s where it gets messy! Most parents don’t want to deal with this, our tendency is to get the desired behavior, no matter what is going on in the inside. This is dangerous- we become dictator-like and that breeds rebellion. We only have our kids for a little while, so we don’t want to build a relationship that breeds rebellion, but rather builds a healthy relationship. 

First things first, talk to God, and then talk to your kid. Start light, and ask about their day, what is going on in their life. Then gradually work your way into the subject. “I’ve noticed that you have been doing ___________ a lot lately. Is there something going on?” Let them have the chance to explain their thought process before you jump into some random lecture. (By the way, the timing is not right if the kid just did the activity and you both fought about it and are angry at each other!) Sometimes, have the child open up to you will help you see something about yourself that you didn’t know. Perhaps he acts out because he thinks you are unfair, or that you like “so-and-so” better than him. Some kids have a hard time opening up, so you may have to ask him if this is what is going on in his head. Explain to your child that it is your job to help them grow up healthy: physically, mentally and socially. Kids need to know that our job is not to always punish them for what they do wrong, but rather to train them to do right. Mention that you have noticed a pattern in her behavior that is not healthy. Point out the behavior and explain why doing this behavior over and over is not good. Bring in any life stories of struggles you have, so that your child knows she is not the only one dealing with things like that! Let her know that you are on her side and you want to help her change. Then listen. If the child sees it from your point of view, you are in a good place! You can help her come up with ways to fix the issue. If your child still doesn’t see it as bad, or shows no desire to change, then point out that repeat behaviors will have more severe consequences. Because now you are no longer dealing with a child whose heart is right but actions are wrong, but with a child whose heart is in rebellion. This is a very dangerous place for a kid to be. They are willing choosing to not obey. And as much as we hate it, we can’t make a kid willingly change. This is where prayer is SO important. Pray with your spouse, pray with that child, pray alone- and fervently! We as parents need to see rebellion for what it is! It is not a phase, it is something that needs to be dealt with! You may be tempted to let up on punishments, thinking that you have exhausted it. But the moment you don’t punish the child for doing the wrong behavior, they see it as an acceptable behavior. It is ok to re-evaluate the effectiveness of the punishment you have chosen. If you need to find something else that will get through to them, then by all means, go ahead and try that. It is important to let a child in rebellion know that he/she is damaging the relationship you both have, and that will cause punishment and lack of trust on your end. 

And then? Endure. That’s all you can do. Pray and endure. It is a battle, but such a battle worth fighting! I work with high schoolers every day. I meet kids whose parents gave up a long time ago. That doesn’t show love, guys! It is the easy way out, to just give up. And it speaks volumes to your kid. Although they probably will like it that you are no longer punishing them, they know it means you’ve given up. And it is human nature to fight for what is important. So they know that they have gone down in importance in your life. So maybe this post is for parents who feel totally whipped by a hard-headed kid- just to encourage you to stay strong!

4. Pray and be willing to change! As we pray over our kids, God may reveal something in US that needs to change. Maybe my kid is hard-headed because, gulp, that is what I have modeled! Then there is a change that needs to happen in my life before I expect that my kid can change. Maybe the child feels that you like another child better. Before you are quick to say “oh, honey! That isn’t true!”, step back and see if there are things that you do that could be misconstrued as favoritism, and then work to correct it! Perhaps your standards are too high, so the kid rebels because he feels like he will never measure up. Not every kid is an athlete, and not every kid is straight A material. At some point, we have to come to terms with that. Just love them where they are!

5. Make sure the punishment fits the crime. If my kid doesn’t study enough for a test or does something wrong because he just acted first and thought later, then these types of offenses are small punishments. Because their heart is not in the wrong, it is just a wrong action or choice. When rebellion is present in our family, we give the worst punishments we can think of. Because something has changed. It wasn’t a mistake- it was deliberate. Our goal is to change from rebellion to relationship as soon as possible! In our house, we have been blessed not to have kids in rebellion for very long at all. We stress how important relationships are, so our kids want to quickly get back on the “good side”. We have fun as a family, and it is no fun to be left out!

Punishment should be looked at as a way to bring you kid back into a right relationship with you or others. Some parents tend to go overboard with punishment, while others keep putting off punishing a child. Either of those are both damaging. It is hard to keep the right balance, but it is important to stop before you punish a kid and think about what is really going on. Dealing with the heart instead of the action is always the right way to go!

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