There is NOT ONE of us parents who is exempt from the bumpy and sometimes treacherous road of challenging childhood behavior. And just when we think we have reached a new plateau and figured a few things out, we see a mountain looming on the horizon that we must inevitably scale. This can feel defeating and exhausting. It can drive us to drink whole boxes of wine (not that I've ever done that).
I have become particularly interested in the framing of challenging behavior and, consequently, the parental or caregiver mindset about behavior guidance. Much like our awareness shifts to seeing pregnant people everywhere when we, ourselves are pregnant or, perhaps more relatable, when we buy a car and suddenly notice that EVERYONE else is driving the same make, model, and color our mindset about challenging behavior has a lot to do with our awareness.
What does this mean?
Let's use a real life example: Little Abe is prone to tantrums about disappointment. Most times, when you say no to Abe's request, you will expect a few minutes of screaming, then rolling on the floor, and eventually some sort of bribe or bargain to coerce a transition out of the behavior. This is predictable and reliable and you anticipate it. It is the way things are with Abe. He'll grow out of it.
Now, consider a frame shift. Instead of always expecting a tantrum and the accompanying awareness about that behavior, you make a silent pact with yourself to find moment to "praise Abe" internally. You shift your awareness to look for moments of Abe handling even minuscule disappointments with more grace, for moments where Abe is showing empathy and kindness. With this shift in awareness, you yourself experience a change in your mindset about your child's behavior. And you will probably like Abe a bit more.
It's not as simple as focusing on the good or focusing on the bad. It's more nuanced than that and is a bit of both.Once you extract yourself from the intense focus on the challenging behavior and shift your awareness toward the whole child, you can begin to strategize for positive change. Make a disappoint plan with Abe, talk about what you do when you feel disappointed, empathize and model a growth mindset about behavior yourself. You know my favorite adage: Attitudes are caught, not taught.
For concrete strategies on challenging behavior prevention, check out Tina Feigel's re-released book: Present Moment Parenting. Tina's heart-centered approach to guiding children's behavior development removes judgment and blame from the parenting routine and replaces them with loving expectations and a culture of do-overs. For help with understanding ages and stages of development, you can check out the Child Development Institute. Here you will find useful information about typical development and reasonable expectations. Another great way to find out more about development or to discover new strategies? Talk to other parents! Our communities of support are key in helping to not only buoy us up during the parenting years, but also to offer practical, on-the-ground solutions for every day challenges. Lean on each other now for support that can last a lifetime!