Returning misbehavior: welcome back, Martin. Misbehavior Files Case 1

Misbehavior files series. Case 1.

papa retando hablando mirada a hijito

Hypothesis: parental over control may inhibit a young child´s hability to accept firm calm limits and learn new social skills. When the over control is turned into trust children may gain a sense of self-control.

Martin, 2 years and 7 months is a sensitive, creative, intelligent and very communicative child. After a few months coming to the play group he got irascible. Even when his emotions were validated and he was offered a respectful and firm limit, he was very upset most of the play time and he tended to insult verbally, to hit and pull from the hair. In the last month his father, Gabriel, decided to come himself (instead of the mother) to be with him during the play group and he constantly looked at his child as if his eyes were an effective way to have Martin´s behavior “under control”.

Martin has been able to “behave” ever since. But eventually his inner impulsive urges would manifest. Being very conscious he was “doing the wrong thing”, he would immediately turn round and look for his father´s eyes with a worried, tense face.

I felt quite uncomfortable about this. I wondered…

Was his father´s presence  a positive support for Martin? Doing so, would his father help him know that he loves him, that he will accompany him while growing, showing him the correct path to go? Would Martin “internalize” his father and find him to be his inner guide while growing up?

Or was he overexposed and misunderstood, considered as rude and bad-mannered and admonished for what he said and did, when what he actually needed was a basic trust on who he is and what he is struggling with?

And in the end, who was I to judge? Should I try to help? Or should I just accept, honor and respect?…

I talked to the father two weeks ago. I told him what I observed about Martin. I suggested him to trust his child and let go, avoiding to set unnecessary pressure on him.

Last week the father took a sit with the other parents and chit chatted with them while Martin played. With his father out of sight, he quickly picked up his lost time: he pulled a friend´s hair; he pushed, hit and grabbed toys from other children. He was being himself and continued his social skills development from where he had left it.

Misbehavior was back. But there was a difference. In the room his father had really changed his message: he was supporting and trusting him. Now, when firm and calm limits are set Martin is able to accept them and move forward into play. True Martin is back and I cherish that.


Misbehavior files. In the search for the ultimate good.

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Have you ever seen a toddler misbehave? I thought I had. A thousand times.

And I have a clear idea of why this has happened: I was blind.

Blind to really see beyond my own projection, perception and understanding.

Early childhood “misbehavior” is an adult conception, a rational explanation of those poorly rated attitudes, responses and experiments babies and infants conduct.

Generally and repeatedly considered by adults as inadequate, improper, bad or mean, infants meet their needs many times under stress (and shame).

Being the cost so high, why do they insist in doing so?

My hypothesis is: because they have an inner urge to fulfill.

It is generally easy to approve, respect and encourage babies endaveours  when they meet  adult standards and expectations: a 2 months old baby smiling to human faces, a 7 months old baby sitting straight on his own, a 12 months baby starting to walk by himself, an 18 months old baby saying her first words, a 24 months old toddler that is willing to be potty trained or a 30 months old toddler that smoothly exchanges his toys and biscuits with a play friend and kisses granny goodby with a big “thank you for the visit” hug…

Anyhow, what happens when a baby does not smile but cries, does not sit, walk, talk or get potty trained when adults expect them to do so? And what about a toddler that refuses to indulge adults requests (or threats) for social correctness?

Is he biting? Is she throwing tantrums? Are they not listening, not paying heed and (in general) not behaving as adults expect? Instead of seeing this as a challenging behavior we can drive our understanding towards a much better question: are they meeting a developmental need by doing what they do? Which one?

This question opens a wide range of responses that will completely modify the actions we adults take when facing such challenges…

Is a 30 months old girl pouring water all over? She may be needing to transfer liquids to understand fluids inter exchange in her own body, preparing herself for potty training. What about offering her enough play time in the bath tub (if weather is cold) or in the play ground?

Is a 24 months old boy saying “no” to every request his mother states? He may be needing to consolidate his “I” image as a separate individual by getting oppositional to every parental request. What about offering him a firm, calm limit (“you have to put your shoes on now”) AND an option so he can feel he is the one who is choosing (which color of shoes he is going to wear)?

Is an 18 months old baby repeatedly climbing the dinner table despite being said not to do so? She may be needing to reinforce the neurological wiring illumined when practising climbing coordination skills. What about taking her long enough to a playground where climbing games are available or setting a safe climbing game in her play area?

Children generally “misbehave” when they don´t find the opportunity to meet their needs in a safe, respectful, free play environment. They do it anyway, anywhere, with what they find at hand. And what do we adults say about that? “Uhm… here is the little naughty one”.

But what would happen if we shift the perspective and question ourselves: “Uhm… am I offering this child an adequate environment to meet his needs?”

Thinking this way, responsibility transfers from kid to adult. We are made responsible, which is good news, because it means we can find effective and intentional ways to offer children (and ourselves) a more fulfilling and harmonious experience.

After years of observation I have come to know everything a baby and toddler does is intended towards one direction, aiming at one very same goal. And this is so because there is only one ultimate good guiding every child behaviour as a compass: fulfilling the innate urge to unfold their humanness.

And I have good reasons to think that this is not only a cultural but also a biological impulse.

There are innumerable examples in my daily work that support this approach. I have picked some of these observations as study cases and compiled them under the “Misbehavior Files Series” in my best aim to narrate a Sherlock Holmes kind of detective educational adventure.

Would you join in solving the childhood discipline mystery puzzle?

Then know this post is just an introduction. Stay tuned, the good stuff is yet to come.