When children misbehave, we want to know why they do what they do. But often, children do not know why they did whatever they did.
When we ask children why questions, we may be thinking two things:
1. I don’t want you (child) to do that again.
2. I want to know how to help you (child) behave differently in the future.
We may genuinely want to know why a child lost her temper, hit another child, broke something valuable, has difficulty finishing homework, keeps forgetting various items, and many other things.
Answers to why questions can be deceptive. A child may say “I forgot” or “She hit me.” A parent may suspect a child is tired or upset because a child missed out on an activity due to misbehavior or even an interfering event like severe weather.
People in a community may have many explanations for children’s behavior such as deficiencies in various supplements, life events like a divorce or birth of a sibling, birth order, and so forth. Some explain behavior as a matter of bad choices.
Sometimes parents consult psychologists who may suggest the reasons for some behaviors are linked to learning disabilities or the biochemistry associated with conditions like ADHD.
The truth is, we often do not know what causes a behavior in a specific child. There may be more than one cause for any given behavior or behavior pattern. As with many things in life, it is often best to focus on the desired outcome.
Ask not why children behave as they do.
Ask what your children will do differently next time.
Ensure they have a clear idea about appropriate behavior and help them achieve that goal using one or more effective discipline techniques.
We usually don’t want our children to answer a why question with something like, “I guess my dopamine levels were low.”
We can avoid helping children search for reasons that can become excuses by focusing on what questions.
Here are three examples of what questions.
- What did you do?
- What rule did you break (if one was broken)?
- What should you do differently next time?
Read more about evidence-based discipline strategies in Discipline with Respect -- A book used by schools and recommended by professionals.
Available on AMAZON Kindle and in paperback.
See the Discipline with Respect website for more information.
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There may be biopsychological explanations for some behavioral difficulties but most children won't know those "reasons" for their behavior. In addition, we usually want to help children learn adaptive behavior even when they have conditions that make it more difficult for them than for other children.
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