Interpreting our children’s behaviors

“The art of good parenting revolves around the interpretation of behavior”

– Dr. James Dobson (The Strong Willed Child)

Being a parent is an amazing experience. It brings out the best in us as we love, adore, protect, pray for and lead our children. However, parenting also challenges us like no other relationship. We must maintain the balance between nurturing our children and enforcing order within our homes. That is a tricky balance for even the most seasoned parent. One of the many facets to parenting is learning to correctly interpret the negative behaviors of our children. I believe there are three basic stages from which all children’s negative behavior stems from and being able to assess the situation correctly will dictate how parents should approach their children for correction and discipline. I will give a brief overview of each stages and will follow up in future blogs with more details. If you have specific questions, please feel free to contact me at

The next time your child misbehaves, try to interpret which one of these stages your child was engaged within.

1. Emotionally based behaviors

These are behaviors that stem from an emotional need; such as fear. For example, a child might lie after being caught misbehaving because he/she is fearful of the consequence. While lying is a serious problem, removing the fear of the consequence can help establish the pattern of telling the truth. I know, it is a challenge as a parent to think about not giving a consequence for misbehavior, but if lying is an ongoing issue, then allowing the child to tell the truth – without a consequence for the behavior – is the solution short term. For a season, consider telling a child who is lying a lot, “if you tell me the truth, the first time I ask you, there will be no consequences.” Guide your child into the habit of telling the truth and then add consequences again later down the road once the lying phase has improved. How long you will need to wait before adding the consequences back will depend on how much of an issue the lying has become. If it is significant, it might take a month or more of no consequences before returning to the truth and a consequence.

Book recommendation: Unfortunately I have yet to find a well balanced book for this stage of children’s behaviors. Most authors that deal with the topic of emotional-based behaviors have gone off the deep end of passive parenting and are at their core advocating child-rule within homes. Not my style of counseling at all. So, if you happen to find a great book that is balanced, please let me know!

2. Being a kid behaviors

This is the stage where most children hum on a typical day. For example, they are asked to turn off the television and go wash their hands for dinner. They continue fixated on the t.v. in zombie land and have lost all ability to hear you. You tell them again, they are now beginning to regain some of their hearing and grunt something at you that sounds sort of like a response. You tell them again – this time in a much louder voice – and they shuffle in snail pace down the hall to the bathroom. They return to the kitchen and have a slight attitude because you interrupted their “favorite show!” At this stage, it is not a true emotional need such as fear that has dictated their behavior. They are being surly but are not challenging your authority outright. I highly recommend that punishment for behaviors within this stage fit the crime so to speak.

Book recommendation: Love & Logic books by Jim Fay, Charles Fay & Foster Cline. They have books geared towards young children (and do please start early!) and for those with teens.

3. The battle for control behaviors

This is the stage that most children do not spend a lot of time in but when they do, the entire house is involved and the parents feel like packing junior’s bags and shipping him/her off to an undisclosed location. This is the stage where children are not in an emotional need, nor are they just “being a kid”. They have entered into a terrain of behaviors that requires parents to step up to the plate and lead.

An example of a battle for control would be a scenario where a parent tells the child to get off his/her bike because it’s time to do homework. The child either loudly or passive-aggressively refuses and continues to ride in the driveway. The parent tells the child again and the child rides farther away from the parent. The parent runs after the child to get him/her off the bike, the child rides faster and is headed to the street. The parent yells for the child to stop, the child laughs, circles around the parent and heads back to the house laughing. The child has had a blast frustrating the parent and the parent is red in the face and ready to explode. The parent again tells child to get off the bike and the child again refuses.

In this scenario, the child has a “bring it on” attitude with the parents and it would not be smart for the parent to allow this behavior to continue. Some passive parenting theorists suggest that ignoring such behavior will magically make it go away. WOW! Really? Letting unrepentant sin go unpunished will make that sin suddenly disappear? I do not think so. A willfully disobedient child must be lovingly corrected and as soon as possible. If we as parents will not lead, I am sure the police will have no trouble leading our off-spring down the road in their lives.

Book recommendation: The Strong-Willed Child by Dr. James Dobson.
I recommend this book for all parents even if your child is not a typical strong-willed child because all children go through phases where they test our ability to lead them and we must do it in a balanced way.

Again, the very next time you receive negative behaviors from your child, assess whether it was driven by an emotional need, just being a kid or a direct challenge to your leadership.

An Effective Apology

Think back over the last year-what is something that you should have apologized for but never did…..go do it right now

Why is apologizing so hard? No one I know loves to apologize. No one I know is constantly looking for a reason to apologize. It’s hard, we don’t like it and many of us try to avoid it even when it is clearly needed in a situation and we are the ones who have to give an apology.
So why is it so challenging? There are several possibilities to consider and the first is that an apology requires us to be vulnerable and transparent. In order to give an effective apology, we have to be able to take the three necessary steps that must be included and each of them require us take off our masks and put our defensive armour down.1. Say “I am sorry”

The first step of a legitimate apology is saying “I am sorry.” Very simple, but I have known people who never let these three words out of their mouths – and I bet you know these individuals as well. Sure, when their temper clears or the offensive behavior has passed, they may begin telling jokes or whistling and this is everyone’s cue that the tension is over and to move on. However, no verbal acknowledgement of the pain caused by the behavior ever comes. The message is that everyone else needs to move on and act as if nothing happened. Right.

2. Say what specifically you did…example, “I am sorry that I yelled at you”

By being able to specifically address the offense, it shows the other person that you clearly understand what you have done and why your behavior was hurtful. It also allows us to hear ourselves say what we did. We often tend to repeat our mistakes until we learn otherwise, and you just might grow embarrassed of apologizing for the same thing over and over – and then be ready for real lasting change to come. 

3. Say “Will you forgive me?”


This is a crucial part of an effective apology. By asking, you are recognizing that you need forgiveness and we all do! This step also allows the other person to forgive out of his/her own free will. They are making the conscience decision to release you from the act that has been committed.

These three steps help wipe the slate clean between people and is essential to any relationship. Parents should be teaching their children to give apologies using these steps. I challenge all parents to recognize moments when your children deserve an apology from you and GIVE IT! It won’t undermine your parental leadership, but strengthen it. The best teaching moments with our children come by role modeling the behaviors we want to see in them. Of course apologies must be frequent within any marriage but that goes without needing much discussion – I hope