Sad Little boyWhat Kids Need Most When They Misbehave

A mom wrote me a question and said, “I actually scared myself the other day. I was so angry at my daughters behavior that I began screaming and yelling. I was so loud I was afraid the neighbors were going to call social services. I am ashamed of how I sounded and I’m scared I can’t stop doing that.”

Her question gave me pause. Over the years I’ve shown parents how to correct behavior, enforce rules, apply boundaries, and reduce power struggles through Proactive Parenting. But I haven’t spent as much time as I would have liked talking about how love factors into correcting behavior.

You may be thinking, “I know what love is, how it feels and how to give it,” and indeed you do. But have you thought about the different forms love can take as you correct behavior?

When it comes to correcting a child’s behavior, love must be present. If you think about it, correcting behavior and love are two sides of the same coin! They need to be used together in order to create high impact lessons that activate change. 

Yes, it’s true that unconditional love means to love your child no matter what, and that’s as it should be. However, if you look closer at the definition of unconditional love you’ll find it also means that you don’t rescue or interrupt the struggles your child must face in order to learn. Children must learn from the consequences of their actions while you lovingly support them.

Recently a parent asked me, “Why is it I never think to use love when I’m correcting my child. I only think about how mad my son makes me, then angrily send him to timeout, and maybe offer love later. It’s exactly how I was treated as a child, and even though I hated it, it’s what I do now with my own child. Why do I do that?”

Why We Fall Back on Anger

1. Parents think anger, when correcting behavior, is a key ingredient to making changes. Not so. Which do you prefer, being yelled at or calmly being told something?

2. Parents tend to equate unconditional love with accepting behavior, not transforming it.

3. Parents think unconditional love means being permissive or not correcting behavior at all. That’s a myth! Using unconditional love is w-a-y firmer, clearer, calmer and more instructional than any other way I know of to correct a child.

4. Parents believe that once a correction is made, a child should never repeat that behavior again. The truth is no mastery has occurred yet; children repeat a misbehavior because they’re in the process of learning.

It’s true there’s nothing harder than seeing your child emotionally upset, frustrated, or reaping the consequences of her actions. Every parent wants to jump in and rescue her from being upset. But that rescue cuts a child off from the developmental and emotional stretching she needs to go through that’s crucial for real change to occur.

Letting Kids Stumble and Struggle

Remember when your sweet one was learning to crawl, he’d cry and fuss as he rocked back and forth learning how to move. You’d support him, encourage him, but you’d never rescue him from mastering that crucial skill.

Think about what it took for your child to learn to tie her shoes. She’d cried and say, “I can’t do this — you do it for me!” That whiny behavior was the emotional expression of the frustration she was feeling inside. She needed to work through that frustration so she could propel herself forward and master the new skill. Rescuing her by tying her shoes would have only slowed the process down.

Using unconditional love allows you to firmly, supportively, and clearly enforce the boundaries in the situation, while allowing your child to work through her emotions. Supported by you, she can get to the realization that she will still be responsible for fixing what’s happened.

How you offer this kind of support is key. Visit my website to learn the specific language of unconditional love in correcting a variety of different behaviors.

Sharon Silver is the author of Stop Reacting and Start Responding and The Authentic Parent Series. Go to to download two free chapters from her book and learn about other Proactive Parenting programs. Find Sharon on Twitter and Facebook.

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