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All behavior makes sense

All Behavior Makes SenseHere are two things that everyone everywhere needs to know about everyone else:

  • People do the best they can with what they know.
  • All behavior makes sense when viewed in context.

This is true for ourselves and our friends and family and definitely for our kids.

Knowing this about each other can make it easier to understand — if not approve — of other people’s choices. Likely if we could stand in their shoes at just the right moment, that thing they just did that we think looks like a very bad idea would make perfect sense.

Take Amelia Bedelia. Now when I was a kid, I could not stand Amelia Bedelia because she was so silly. Amelia Bedelia, in case you did not know, is a fictional maid in picture books who is forever doing dumb things like putting raw chicken in baby clothes (because her employee asked her to “dress the chicken”) or putting sponges in cake (because her employee requested a “sponge cake”). But Amelia Bedelia is certainly doing the best she can and if you stood in her shoes — shoes that are on the feet of someone extremely literal — her choices would all make perfect sense.

Kids can be a lot like Amelia Bedelia (grown ups can be, too, but let’s stick with kids here because I’m filing this entry under the “parenting” category). They can do something that we can clearly see is a very bad idea and we can say to them, “Why did you do this?” And kids say, “I don’t know.” Because they don’t know; it just made sense when they did it. That’s why they lose their homework and hit their baby siblings and eat the last cupcake that didn’t belong to them and watch television instead of picking up their toys. It made perfect sense at the time.

If you assumed your child really was doing the best she could at the time — even if at the time she was leaving her lunchbox at school¬† — how might that change how you consider and deal with the problem? Might you think about the last time you left your cell phone at work or left your wallet on the kitchen table? These things happen when we’re overwhelmed or under slept or chatting with friends while we pack up to leave. We do the best we can and then sometimes we have to deal with the consequences when the best we can do isn’t so great.

What about your child who hits his baby sister every time your back is turned? What if you thought about the problem with the belief that he’s doing the best he can with what he knows. What does he need to know? In what way does his behavior make sense to him? I’m not talking about letting him off the hook but when we understand what’s going on our interventions are more likely to work. Maybe he needs more supervision. Maybe he needs help with emotional regulation. Maybe he’s imitating his big brother.

Assuming there’s a reason behind behavior — even if it’s a lousy reason — gives us tools to solve real problems.

Talking to kids about race and racism

shutterstock_44513719Today as we honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I wanted to share some resources for incorporating more discussion about racism, civil rights and social justice in your day-to-day parenting life.

Why talk about racism?

  • Here’s some research that shows that Children Are Not Colorblind (opens as PDF)
  • And when we pretend that they are or that this is a worthy goal then, as the Southern Poverty Law Center site “Teaching Tolerance” points out, we help perpetuate racism
  • A video from “A Girl Like Me” that illustrates the way children internalize racism and reminds us that we must be proactive

How to talk about racism?



One simple, hard thing

"One of the most essential ways ofThe good news is one of the best things you can do as a parent is really simple: Listen.

The bad news is that it’s also really hard because listening doesn’t mean:

  • Giving unasked for advice
  • Sharing unasked for parental wisdom
  • Problem-solving
  • At leasting

Parenting is pretty goal oriented. We spend a lot of time trying to help these kids grow up by teaching them, directing them and moving them forward. But sometimes when we do that, we’re stepping on their own trajectory. Sometimes we need to leave them alone to figure things out themselves.

That doesn’t mean we have to sit there doing nothing; it means sometimes we have to sit there and listen.¬†

No advice. No fixing. No rushing to judgment. Instead say, “Uh-huh.” Or, “Really?” Or, “Tell me more.”

Use your words to join with them. Say, “That sounds hard.” Or, “How frustrating!” Or, “No wonder you came home so excited!”

If they try to get you to fix it for them, try handing it back. “I don’t know, what do you think?” Or, “It reminds me of that time you had that other thing happen. What did you do then?”

You may have to sit on your hands or do your Yoga breathing to keep yourself from jumping in. You may need to run a mantra through your head, “Don’t Talk Don’t Talk Don’t Talk Don’t Talk.” If you’re used to being a more active participant in the conversations, it’ll take some getting used to (for both of you).

I’m not saying that you should never ever ever give your child advice or help them more directly, but if you feel like you’re in the habit of leaping in during conversations, try hanging back and see what happens. It’s a simple (if hard) way to say, “I love you” without saying a word.



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