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But don’t they deserve to be punished? Challenging behavior at home, part III

When your kids are yelling, hitting, throwing things, kicking in doors, fighting with siblings, resisting school, not cooperating to get ready, having a hard time transitioning, refusing to do chores, blowing up when they don't get what they want, and, and, and. You just want ease, and the fastest thing to get there seems to be punishment. Your nervous system is on red alert as none of this is OK!

You are thinking, “I just can’t take anymore! They deserve to be punished! This is wrong, disrespectful, a problem. What would my mother say? What if the neighbor is overhearing this backtalk?!? They’ll think I’m a lousy Mom, that’s what. This is embarrassing and mortifying! Why can’t I stop this? I’m a terrible parent. This is messing up our schedule, we’ll never get what we need to done! It’s not this hard for other parents…” and on and on.

The question I often hear from parents I work with is, “How do I stop their challenging behavior?” It’s a valid question from our perspective. We give and give and this is the thanks we get? It feels like they have turned into a wolf and are attacking us!

But as we learned before, challenging behavior is actually important; it is communicating that they have an unmet need that matters to them. A lot. These awful behaviors are their way of protecting themselves and escalating to get their needs met. Their emotions are a guide to what matters, what’s important. Yes, it is a poor strategy. Yes, it is uncomfortable for us. But it's their convoluted ask for support. So the counterintuitive solution is to go towards them, even though we accurately sense threat and discomfort.

“What? Really? Do we have to? That sounds scary and uncomfortable.” I hear parents respond.

As we learned in the last post, the solution is to start to MEET them where they are. MEET and accept the one who is yelling, screaming, hitting, whining, crying etc. This is paradoxical, I know. It felt uncomfortable for me too. But when you really get that these awful behaviors are your child’s way of protecting themselves and communicating as best as they can in that moment, it makes more sense and seems more possible.

When you put on your MEET lens, you can more easily see that they are trying to tell you what is important to them, what they value. When they are yelling or resisting, they are using unskillful strategies to get what they need: to be seen, or gain power in their world, or connection. They aren't actually a threat to you.