I thought my child was being a brat. So I treated her that way. Oops.

Marcilieconsequences, discipline, Parenting w/Positive Discipline, Positive Parenting2 Comments

I thought my child was being a brat. So I treated her that way. It seemed logical at the time, but my intervention actually invited more bratty behavior. Here’s why . . .

“Your explanation of your child’s behavior guides your intervention.”  — Ross Greene

I will forever be transformed by having read, “The Explosive Child” by Ross Greene. Poorly named, this book describes both a perspective and a process for solving behavior problems jointly with kids (all kinds, even non-explosive ones.) His work, along with “Positive Discipline,” inspired the curriculum for week 3 in my parenting series, “Peaceful Parents, Cooperative Kids.”

It helps that there’s a simple process to follow (Greene calls his, “Collaborative Problem Solving,” and I call mine, “PESOS.”) But even more profound is the perspective shift he recommends parents take while solving behavior problems with their kids.

Because how you see your child’s behavior affects how you feel, and how you feel affects how you act. There’s some chicken and egg going on in there, for sure, but it starts with what you see, or rather, how you make sense of what you see.

Here’s an example:

Your child asks for ice cream before dinner. You say no. Your child breaks into full tantrum.

What do you see?  You might see an ungrateful child who is completely spoiled and freaks out when she doesn’t get her way.

What do you feel?  Irritated, disgusted, mad at yourself for raising such a spoiled child.

What do you do?  You tell her to knock it off and stop being such a spoiled brat. You walk away in disgust while she tantrums even more.

NOW  . . . here’s another perspective on the same example:

Your child asks for ice cream before dinner. You say no. Your child breaks into full tantrum.

What do you see?  You could choose to see a beautifully imperfect child who is still learning and growing, and who wants to behave and do well, but something is making it hard for her. Maybe she is feeling powerless. Maybe she is feeling lonely and disconnected from you. Maybe she is simply tired or hungry.

What do you feel?  Curiosity. Empathy.

What do you do?  You might give her a big hug. Or ask her if she’s feeling hungry. Or tell her that you love her and want to share ice cream with her after dinner.

“Your explanation of your child’s behavior guides your intervention.” And since we always want our interventions to be helpful, it’s always better to see your child as one who is trying to do well and behave nicely, but something is getting in the way. Because what you see affects how you feel, and how you feel affects how you act.

Here’s how it went down in my house several years ago. . .

My 5YO daughter returned home from preschool in a bad mood. From the moment I greeted her she whined and even resisted buckling her seatbelt. Upon arriving home I asked her to unpack her lunchbox.

“Nooooo! I won’t do it!” was her reply, and then she melted onto the floor like boiled spaghetti.

My response:  “M, you will do it. Stop whining. It’s your job to unpack your lunchbox so just get it done!”

Whimpers, whines, and cries greeted me now, as the spaghetti-girl wiggled and writhed on the floor.

In a flash, I became aware of my perspective: “She’s being such a brat! It’s a simple task to unpack a lunchbox. I can’t believe what a pain she is right now!”

And then I noticed my feelings:  Anger, irritation, resentment, a little self-righteousness maybe.

I had just taught a class about parenting perspectives so I recognized what was happening and walked away for a minute to clear my head.

It then occurred to me that maybe my daughter had had a bad day or perhaps she was even hungry. I unzipped her lunchbox to look inside and found that nothing had been eaten.

A-ha! The explanation of my child’s behavior was hunger after all! So rather than make demands, or yell, or send her to time-out, I simply put a bowl of peaches in front of her.

She ate them. She felt better. And then she unpacked her lunchbox. Because “children do better when they feel better.” (Jane Nelsen, Positive Discipline)

What shifts for you when you shift your perspective?  Please share in the comment section below!

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For more on joint problem solving with PESOS, check out this podcast with Casey O’Roarty of Joyful Courage, “Whose Problem Is It?” or read this article from a Marketing VP who took a class with me, “How Taking a Parenting Class Made Me a Better Manager.”

Learn more about Ross Greene’s work here at Lives in the Balance.

2 Comments on “I thought my child was being a brat. So I treated her that way. Oops.”

  1. Marcilie, this really helps! I really love the graphic organizer with the three columns. What a good reminder! I catch myself spiraling downward on the, “my kid is a brat,” path sometimes. It is hard to break once you go there. This was the perfect thing to read right in my inbox this week! I am not always successful at slowing down my reaction, but that is what it takes to give myself time to change my perspective in the moment. Letting my initial, “Dxxx it!” pass, so I can think more clearly is always better, but also difficult to always do. I am going to slip and I am in constant need of reminders. Your classes, I took four years ago now continue to be so helpful in the practice of parenting. Thanks for such clear presentation and modeling of the parenting tools you offer.

    1. Christine, thanks for leaving a comment! I’m so glad the message and image were helpful. I tell you, recently I’ve had thoughts way worse than “brat” in my mind! So this message has been particularly helpful for me, too. This week, I’m trying to replace those unhelpful thoughts with this one: “My child is immature, and needs belonging and significance even so.” I’m also realizing that I need it, too! So self care is at the top of my list these days, too. My very best to you!

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