Monday, 13 February 2012

Misbehaviour in Children:The Adult's Role

A few requisites for the management of persistent misbehaviour in children are listed below.

(For a better understanding of this post and the character Sam mentioned here, please read the previous post here

  1. A Calm Adult and a Firm Rule- A misbehaving child would benefit maximum by the care of an adult who is calm, yet firm; an adult who is able to enforce a rule, while respecting the child at the same time. In Sam’s case, he would benefit most by an adult (teacher) who could just enforce a rule about not being rude to others. The adult would just have to say “Sam, we are not rude to others” and stop it at that, without asking him numerous questions about why he is rude. This rule (We are not rude to others) would have to be repeated over and over again in a calm yet firm tone of voice until the message seeped into Sam and he stopped being rude.
  2. Unconditional Acceptance- Misbehaving children are often made to feel like they are “bad little people”. They don’t feel accepted by the people around them, who seem to find only the bad in them. While it can certainly be challenging to accept a child despite his negative behaviour, acceptance is precisely what a misbehaving child needs in order to develop good behaviour. The adult need not accept his bad behaviour but must ideally accept the child. In Sam’s case, the teacher sounded judgemental when she said to Sam,“Sam, good boys are not rude to others. Are you a good boy or a bad boy? If you are a bad boy, you will not have any friends.”  All she needed to do was make it clear that his behaviour was not acceptable by saying, “Bad behaviour is not acceptable” or “Being rude to people is neither acceptable nor allowed”. Behaviour should not be used as a parameter to judge a child as "good" or "bad". Bad behaviour does not make a child a "bad" person. The child's behaviour may be labelled unacceptable but not the child himself. 
  3. Realistic Consequences- False threats and consequences may have an immediate effect but rarely work in the long run. Once an adult issues a false threat and fails to follow up on it, the child understands that the adult does not mean what he says. So, the next time a threat is issued, the adult may get nothing more than a look of indifference from the child! In Sam’s case, he had heard the empty threat “I will take you to the Principal’s office now” several times and hence it refused to carry any weight. It is important that consequences (if any) are realistic, fair and most importantly agreed upon by both the adult & the child beforehand. What this means is that both the adult and the child are aware of and have agreed upon the consequences of any kind of bad behaviour. It is similar to a law. People know beforehand that when they jump signals and get caught by the police, there’s no escaping the fine! It is the same with children who display persistent misbehaviour! Being aware of consequences beforehand makes them easier for the adult to enforce and for the child to accept. 


  1. Can you give some realistic examples of realistic consequences?

  2. Sure.

    A realistic consequence would be any consequence that would have to be faced, without a choice. Some realistic consequences would be natural while others would have to be set beforehand.

    Here is an example for each.

    Natural Consequence-

    A child is throwing a tantrum at the dining table.

    Child: “Mama, I will not eat this. I want noodles.”

    Mama: “Well, its lunch time and I cannot make noodles now. Would you mind eating this for lunch and I shall certainly make noodles for you soon.”

    Child (angry): Noooooo. I will not eat this. I want noodles right now.

    Mama (calm): I told you I will make it for you soon but this is our lunch for today.

    Child (angry): I will NOT eat this. I will only eat noodles. I am going out to play.

    Mama (calm): As you wish. In case you feel hungry, your lunch will be in the fridge.

    So, the child goes without his lunch. And the mother lets it be, without any drama or threats. And the mother has the advantage of staying calm. So, the child cannot throw further tantrums and he also realises that throwing a tantrum will not get his mother to change her stance.A natural consequence of not eating lunch on time will be hunger that is experienced sooner or later. At that point the child will himself come looking for food. Also, since the mother was neutral and calm about the food being accessible to him in the fridge, the child would not hesitate to pick it up and eat when hungry. In short, there will be no clash of egos!

    Set Consequence-

    An example of a set consequence would be Time Out in Reflection of Bad Behaviour (agreed upon by the adult and the child beforehand).

    For example, in the story of Sam, a set consequence for being rude to others could mean Time Out in a place that is meant for reflection. A small corner of the class could be named Time Out Zone. It must be agreed upon by the teacher and the children beforehand that any rude behaviour would mean being in Timeout Zone to reflect on their rude behaviour and come back when prepared to behave well. So, any child who misbehaves automatically knows that he is heading towards Timeout Zone to sit in reflection while the rest of the class continues to work. And there is no escaping it because it is a consequence agreed upon beforehand by all the children. Also, it is fair because every misbehaving child faces it, without any drama or threatening done by the adult. So, there is no resentment and the child is free to work on his poor behaviour while not feeling insulted or resentful.

    Hope that helped.