As parents, it is natural to wonder why our children misbehave, do something negative or out of character for them, or simply make poor choices. We want to know “why did he hit his sister?” or “why did she slam the door?”
Don’t ever, I repeat, EVER ask your child or your teen, “Why did you _______?” (fill in the blank of the negative behavior that your child or teen just exhibited).
Why shouldn’t You Ask Your Child “Why”?
You won’t get the logical, sensible answer you want. You don’t believe me? Well, have you ever asked your child, “why did you hit your brother?” Or, “why did you do XYZ when I told you not to do that?” If you did, the answer from the child is never, “Well, I hit my brother because he was yelling at me and it was driving me crazy and the anger just built up so much that the reflexes just when into fight mode, so I hit him. I knew it was wrong and I shouldn’t have done it, so I apologized to him.” Kids and teens are impulsive. It’s biological. Their frontal lobe is not developed yet. They act on what they want to do, not what they may know they should do.
The Answer You’ll Usually Receive
Most kids and teens will answer the “why did you do it?” question with, “I don’t know.” Why? Well, they usually don’t know. They also usually know that the choice they made was a bad one, so no matter what answer they give to you, you will not allow them to justify their misdeed. It’s a lose-lose for them. So, telling them “you DO know” or “I’ll wait until you can tell me why you did XYZ” is a losing battle.
Save the “Why” Question for Yourself
Next time you are tempted to ask your child or teen why he made a poor choice, instead, try answering it yourself. Ask yourself why your child may have acted in an unacceptable way or said something inappropriate. Here’s a hint: most likely it wasn’t said or done just to make you angry. Try to think of the misbehavior in the realm of “What does she need?” This will help you help your child make a better choice next time. You can be empathic and will be able to teach your child a positive way to handle a problem, rather than getting angry over something that already occurred.
What’s a Good Consequence?
The goal of the consequence is to TEACH not punish. So, when your child or teen makes a poor choice, try to empathize and help him think through what happened, what he did, and what he could have done differently. “What should you have done?” and “What can you do next time”? are questions that will teach your child or teen to learn the script to (hopefully) make a better choice when a similar situation occurs in the future.
If consequences are in order, have the consequence fit the crime. If the action resulted in reduced ability for you to trust her, then the consequence should be related to her working to earn your trust. Just because your child or teen loves using the computer, gaming system, phone, iPad, etc., doesn’t mean that taking it away is the ultimate/appropriate consequence. If you asked your teen to turn off the tv and come to dinner and he refuses, then taking tv away for a period of time is a natural and appropriate consequence. That is, “you weren’t able to turn off the tv when I asked, so now you have lost the privilege of turning it on when you would like for a period of time.
Remember, consequences shouldn’t punish the parents.