Trying to treat the cause, not just the symptoms of misbehavior
I decided to tackle the laundry room which was no small task. Besides the endless laundry, I was sick of the lack of organization in general. Toilet paper, old rags, mismatched socks, etc were driving me crazy. So I spent nap/quiet time starting to organize. (See my post about finding what brings you peace here.) However, I became distracted and decided to sit down and read, as I am always conflicted during nap time whether to “relax” or be productive. It’s such sacred time and both a mid day recharge as well as the endless to do list are always in close competition.
Of all of the supplies he could have selected from the piles I had left just outside his room, Keener found the toilet paper. The same toilet paper that you can’t buy more of right now during this unprecedented time. At the end of quiet time, Keener came and found me. “Mom, I made something awesome but you are going to be mad.”
That is quite an opening line. Whatever amount of time I had spent trying to recharge my batteries instantly felt zapped. “Will it take you a long time to clean it up?” A few months ago, Keener was doing “science experiments” during quiet time where he explored with all of the different lotions, soaps, shampoos, toothpaste he could find… (Needless to say, more boundaries were put it place for quiet time after that!)
He told me it wouldn’t take that long to clean up; I was fairly certain we had dodged a bullet on the science experiments. “I made a spider web!” At first, I was thinking that was cool and trying to figure out what he could have used. Then I remembered my laundry room organization… oh no. Please tell me he didn’t use the toilet paper…
We walk into his room together and, as you can see from the picture, toilet paper was stretching from one end to the other.
While 98% of me wanted to lay into him about the toilet paper shortage, ask him what is wrong with him, and yell at him for being irresponsible, I somehow stopped myself. I had just been reread a section of one of my favorite books, No Drama Discipline.
Chase the Why
The book reminds us to “chase the why” which means we need to look at behavior and situations from a place of curiosity, NOT assumptions. Instead of starting my speech about how wasteful it was, I simply asked him to tell me more about his spider web. “It’s just like a real spider’s web! And then I made a track for my Magna-Tiles! See how the toilet paper goes under them across my room?”
I quickly realized that he used the toilet paper as he uses any other supplies in his room – be it books, Magna-Tiles or pieces from his train table — to build and create. He saw the toilet paper and thought it was the perfect new building material. Intellectually, I get it. He had no way of knowing there is a toilet paper shortage and that he used some of the precious few Cottenelle rolls that you just can’t get right now on Subscribe and Save!
Instead of yelling, I dug deep and thought about discipline as teaching. I certainly didn’t want this to happen again, so I had to teach him alternatives. Together, we came up with a plan:
- Tear off the pieces he has already used
- Reuse those for future spider webs/building projects
- Use other supplies to build and make webs with such as ribbon for future projects
I then explained that we don’t want to be wasteful ever, but especially now. He knows I have been limiting my trips to the grocery store so he seemed to understand why I told him not to build with toilet paper again. There was no yelling and, knock on wood, teaching took place. Of course it could always change, but so far he hasn’t repeated this same offence.
When we take the time to evaluate a situation, we often realize that our children are not trying to torture us after all, even though that has been my initial thought on multiple occasions. As the books says, “by looking deeper at what’s going on behind a particular misbehavior, we can often understand that our child was trying to express or attempt something but simply didn’t handle it appropriately.” Therefore, it is our job to figure out what it was they were trying to do and then teach them how to do that appropriately. My post, “Stopping undesired behavior in it’s tracks” reminds us that there is a time and place for everything. We have to help them find it.
Spending the time to figure out where our kids are coming from helps us change our response and level of understanding. Especially now when times are even more challenging, taking into account what our kids are going through is essential. I know I haven’t been my best self all day every day and I want my family to recognize why my behavior may not be at it’s best. The same is true for our children. We are not perfect, and they are not perfect. Life right now is harder for all of us. The more we try and understand each other, the easier it will be to respond from a place of compassion instead of anger.
How to Yell Less
- When you see the misbehavior/mess, initially don’t say anything
- Put on your detective hat to ask questions that will give you insight into the cause of the behavior.
- Let curiosity replace your frustration. Avoid simply asking “Why did you do that?” Sometimes, kids will not know why they did what they did (just like I don’t know why I ate my kids’ Easter candy until my stomach hurt the other night). The book emphasizes chasing the why which could simply be talking to your child to learn more about what they did.
- Consider where your child is coming from in this moment.
- Instead of thinking about consequences, change your focus to determining what is really going on inside your child.
- Once you have all of the data and necessary information, determine what steps need to come next. This could include immediate actions such as cleaning up a mess or making things right with a sibling, but could also involve looking at any bigger issues at play (Does he know what he can do if he is angry? Does she feel this way often?)
I’ll leave you with some advice from the book, “No Drama Discipline” that I find the most helpful:
- “Few parental actions will hinder connection faster than assuming the worst and reacting accordingly.”
- Ask yourself, “I wonder why my child did that. What is she wanting here? Is she asking for something? Trying to discover something? What is she communicating?”
- Instead of asking yourself “How could she do this?,” chase the why
- “It’s fine to be frustrated. But as quickly as possible, chase the why.”
- “Human behavior is purpose-driven most of the time. We need to know what’s behind it, what’s causing it. If we focus only on our child’s behavior (her external world) and neglect the reasons behind that behavior (her internal world), then we’ll concentrate only on the symptoms, not the cause that’s producing them. And if we consider only the symptoms, we’ll have to keep treating those symptoms over and over again.”