Beyond Behavior: Looking at the Heart of a Child

Saturday, January 23, 2016

All three faces on his behavior chart were flipped to the sad face side. Again. That meant he had to go to time-out. Again. It didn’t take much to get a card flipped on the chart, which I thought was a simple and brilliant concept. From a sheet of construction paper labeled 'Behavior Chart' hung 3 cards, each with a happy face on one side and a sad face on the other.

My children started each day with 3 happy faces. Everything I deemed a misbehavior, from fighting with brother to not obeying my rules and commands, meant a card got flipped over. Three sad faces resulted in a time-out – three minutes to sit in a little chair in the hallway alone to “think about what he’d done.” At the time, it felt like a fair system of discipline, which I was assured needed to be completely consistent lest my children should get the idea that I could be manipulated.

Yet, every day was the same thing. Faces got flipped regularly as my immature children failed to spontaneously grow their brains upon my command. Time-out was enforced consistently, but no improvement in behavior resulted. I only saw more defiance. Frustrated and disconnected from my sweet little ones, I decided this story had to change.

It took a lot of research and heart searching to change my views on behavior, but what I finally came to believe was that discipline wasn’t about flipping sad faces on cards but about flipping sad faces on people. Discipline is reaching and teaching the heart.

Behavior is an outward reflection of the inner state and so poor behavior is a signal to me that my child is in need of help to restore his inner state to peace (or he needs to be taught specific skills). Defiance, though, is a heart issue and can only be resolved by restoring heart-to-heart connection.

The way our society views children doesn’t make this shift easy. For a couple of years, I bought into the wild accusations that my child would try to walk all over me, run my home, and become a nightmare if I didn’t put my iron fist down right away. I believed that discipline must be calculated, swift, and consistent. Although I considered myself “positive” because I didn’t use physical discipline, the goal was still to control behavior, albeit as nicely as I could.

Making the shift from control to reaching and teaching the heart meant I had to let go of my predetermined system and look at each child and each situation uniquely. Although there is no formula, I have found the following gifts of understanding to be helpful when looking beyond behavior to what my child’s heart is saying.

1. Understand brain development.
I wrote an article about the brain science that changed my parenting here. Knowing some basic information about which parts of my child’s brain were developed at birth and which parts would take years to develop helped me understand his behavior. When I realized that the area of his brain responsible for logic and reasoning wasn’t well developed at age 3, I finally understood why it was so difficult for him to foresee the consequences of his actions.

This didn’t mean that I waved off his behavior as something he couldn’t control but rather shifted my focus to helping him access his logic and reason more (which he couldn’t do when he felt threatened in time-out).

2. Understand the power of connection.
The more connected we are – the more our children feel safe, valued, and loved – the more influence we have. Shaming, isolating, and punishing only cause disconnection, making it much more difficult to have influence. Connecting even when (especially when) correcting gave me more influence to reach his heart. 

...continue reading at Creative Child Magazine

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