This post was inspired by a mom who asked a question on one of the parenting sites I visit and comment on regularly. She wanted to know whether or not other parents are correcting behavior when it’s tied to a developmental phase?
Here’s how I look at it. Please don’t overlook behavior because it can be tied to development, and please don’t automatically resort to punishment either. Let me explain.
I think all parents would agree that it feels counterintuitive not to address behavior that clearly needs to be corrected, regardless of what motivated it. What’s important is how you correct the behavior, especially when it’s motivated by development.
Development advances a child’s neurology. Parents tend to forget just how much brain growth is occurring as a child gets older. One of the purposes of development is for behavior to surface so a child can learn. That’s why you don’t overlook it; developmentally based behavior allows parents to teach life skills.
A basic example of this is a baby who’s learning to crawl. He can’t sleep, he rocks back and forth in his crib, and he’s really cranky. If he were fully verbal he’d express how development is affecting him by being disrespectful, or argumentative or non-cooperative. All parents help a child learning to crawl by filling in the missing information; they move the child’s arms and legs giving him the idea of how to crawl. They don’t punish him because his behavior is a reflection of the frustration he’s feeling due to the developmental imperative to crawl, they teach him.
That kind of teaching is exactly what all children need, regardless of age, especially when their behavior is over the top due to a developmental phase. They’re missing information about why the behavior they chosen is not a good choice. They need a natural consequence, lots of talking and your support to help them learn, they don’t need timeout and punishment.
Here’s a good example. Suzie is 5 and has been very bossy for the last 6 months. Her parents have talked to her, sent her to timeout, taken things away from her, and yet nothing has changed. When her parents ask her why she’s bossy, even though they’ve talked about it, she says, “I don’t know!” and she doesn’t.
What Suzie needs are the life skills, the emotional information and first hand experience showing her how to replace bossiness with words that are respectful, yet still express her feelings.
When you look at behavior from this perspective you’re transformed as well. You have more empathy and are more inclined to respond, not react and punish.
The perfect natural consequence when Suzie is bossy is for all words and activities to stop until she apologizes and rewords her request in a more respectful way. And it may not stop there. Read other articles and blog posts for more information.
Yes, Suzie will need this type of teaching correction many more times as her brain grows during this phase. However, when the phase is complete she’ll have acquired the knowledge needed to replace bossiness with requests that are more respectful, versus learning that being bossy is productive; it gets people’s attention.
Teaching corrections show children what they should do, instead of what they did do, it creates knowledge based on experience, and in my opinion is one of the best ways to change behavior.