The next time your child behaves in ways you would describe as being ‘naughty,’ instead of seeing this as willful or bad behavior, consider the possibility that your child is actually feeling anxious. In many cases when a child, of any age, including teenagers, feels anxious, they may not have the skills to cope with the anxiety and so they become irritable or defiant or stubborn.
The next time your child is being difficult, ask yourself, ‘could this be anxiety?’ Seeing your child’s ‘naughtiness’ as being caused by anxiety would mean you would have to dramatically change the way you respond. The disciplinary conversations and tools that are typically recommended to manage ‘naughty’ or ‘difficult’ kids are not useful if the behavior is caused by anxiety. In fact these disciplinary approaches can be greatly counter-productive and cause even more stress and anxiety.
So the next time you are faced with your child’s difficult behavior try treating it as though it is anxiety-driven and see what happens. You may find that after a few times of doing this, the child’s all-round behavior improves considerably.
Here’s how you do this.
- Do not immediately react. Stop and breathe. Then, remind yourself that you are going to approach this as though it is caused by anxiety.
- Make sure that you are speaking to them at an eye-to-eye level – you may have to bend or kneel for little children.
- Use a calm, warm and quiet voice.
- Make sure your body language is not inflammatory, but rather kind and approachable.
- Tell your child that he or she is the very best kid you could have ever asked for; that you love him/her very much; but that you don’t love the behavior you just saw.
- Tell the child softly and warmly that you know that they know a better way to behave.
- Ask them if they could think of another way to behave that would get them what they want and make them, and you, feel good.
- If they don’t suggest an alternative behavior, suggest one to them saying, ‘what would you think about this…?’
Why this works.
When you focus on the child as the problem, you are sending the message that the child is not okay, not a good kid, a bad kid, a problem child. This increases any anxiety that they may be already feeling and aggravates the difficult behavior. When you focus on the behavior and do this in a loving way, this will reduce their stress and anxiety level and make them more amenable to change.
Finally, think carefully about what could be making your child anxious. It could be any number of relationship issues, family issues, problems with friends or school. It could be that he is struggling with low self-confidence. It could even be the food she is eating or some the toxins in her environment. I trust the remarkable intuition of parents. Listen to your intuition and your inner voice. This will let you know, firstly whether anxiety is indeed a factor in your child’s behavior, and if so, what could be causing it.
Let me know what happens when you treat difficult behavior as anxiety. I would love to hear your stories. I have seen children’s – and parent’s behavior change dramatically when parents shift their perception of what they call ‘naughty.’