Is my child simply having childish behavior or are they acting in foolishness? Here is some insight on those behaviors and also how to train in order to prevent unwanted situations from happening.
It’s a given fact…
As a parent, you’re going to eventually experience some “less than desirable” behavior out of your children.
But the question that every parent has to face it this:
Do I “shrug is off” as simply childish behavior OR does it fall under the category of foolishness?
First, let’s discuss the difference in childish behavior and foolishness…
The book entitled On Becoming Babywise by Gary Ezzo and Robert Buckman talks about this very topic. It explains that Childish Behavior is accidental and done because your child is naive.
In other words, a childish act is not down out of spite, but rather because he or she does not understand the rules or know the appropriate behavior.
Foolishness is when your child is acting out of direct defiance for a rule THAT he or she understands.
With this understanding, a parent can react appropriately with each type of behavior.
Obviously, our first reaction to unwanted behaviors is important, because it determines how our child responds (either through a learning experience or through chastisement.)
In the early years, I like to err on the side of “childish.” I make my first assumption be that the behavior was done out of childishness rather than foolishness.
As your child gets older and you get to know your child better, you will have a good idea if actions were childish or not. That doesn’t mean you will always judge perfectly–I still often think my seven year old is acting foolishly when he is in fact acting out of childishness.
For examples on childishness, foolishness, and in between, see this post: Childishness vs. Foolishness.
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Preventing Childish Behavior
Nobody likes to be put in situations where they don’t understand how to behave. This includes children, so they have to be trained.
Prevent childish behavior by teaching your children appropriate behaviors for situations. Help them grow by explaining to them the circumstance they’re in and what your behavior expectation for them is while you’re there.
In other words, teach them ahead of time what is okay and what isn’t okay. It is a parent’s job to Teach What Obedience Looks Like.
You obviously will not be able to cover every situation before it happens. If you are going into a new situation, however, you can do some training ahead of time to give your child knowledge and tools to prepare for it.
You can read more about this in my post Training in Times of Non-Conflict.
What does training ahead of time look like?
Before you enter a situation, train your child of appropriate behavior. For example:
- If you are going to the park, explain that when it is time to go home, your child needs to come to you nicely and without throwing a fit.
- At home, before you leave, demonstrate what is an appropriate reaction and what is not. Then, ask your child to do the same.
- When you get to the park, before you exit the car/start to play, remind your child of the rules. Then ask your child to repeat to you what is expected. This helps you know if your child understands or not. This method is called “Ask and Tell.”
You’re Reaction Matters
After you decide what you’re seeing out of your child is childish behavior or foolishness, consider your reaction.
- Look at your child, analyze the context of the situation,
- Think through what your child knows and doesn’t know. You can ask questions of your child if you need to.
- Once you have determined it was childish (on accident), move on to your reaction of the behavior.
First, react with patience to your child.
This is often easier said than done! When a child spills a cup of milk, it can be very frustrating–even if the spill was just an accident. Do your best to be patient. If you lose your patience, you can lead by example and apologize.
Gently encourage the child in the correct way to act. If a child runs in a place where running is inappropriate, explain to your child what is appropriate. Explain what the child did that was not okay and then instruct on what to do instead. “We do not run in the church. Fold your arms and walk instead.”
Do not make the mistake of simply telling a child what not to do–children benefit greatly with being told what they can do instead.
Think of yourself approaching an intersection and not knowing which way to go. You decide to go straight and I tell you, “No! Don’t go straight!” That doesn’t leave you knowing where you should go, just that I don’t want you going straight. Always remember children are very new to life and need instruction beyond just what is wrong.
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Then, teach your child to correct the mistake made because of their childish behavior.
Just because something is childish doesn’t mean the mistake can’t be fixed...
If you are in the store and bump into someone on accident, you apologize. You don’t just say, “I didn’t mean to!” and walk off.
If a child spills a glass of milk on accident, it is absolutely appropriate for the child to help clean it up as the child is able. If the child hurts someone, the child absolutely should offer an apology (which, by the way, is often very difficult for children to do–they often do not like apologizing for accidents.
Stress to your children that it is important and okay to apologize for things even if no ill intent was there. The action was still done whether it was intentional or not. See I’m Sorry Vs. Forgive Me for more on this).
Importantly, understand that it’s a learning process.
You also need to have a lot of patience. Be patient with your child’s efforts. Accept your child’s best.
Also realize that children are little scientists.
Let me explain- A child will often repeat behavior that she was told was not okay in an effort to figure out exactly what wasn’t okay.
It’s simple really… this will happen because the child is still building vocabulary. She might not fully understand what you meant when you said it wasn’t okay to blow raspberries while eating. So she will try it again and try it with variations so she can figure out what is not okay and what isn’t okay.
This leads us to the importance of you being consistent in your corrections. You need to consistently correct for behavior so your child has the best chance of learning what she can do and what she cannot do.
Lastly, be careful of your negative reactions.
While children often make mistakes, most children make them innocently. Most children are not trying to make you upset or cause trouble.
Be careful not to assume your child understands all of the rules and social graces of life.
If you have not explicitly taught your child about something, your child likely does not know.
For example: A child points to a stranger and loudly asks why their tummy is so fat/big/large/round. As parents, we are usually quite embarrassed. The child usually has not ever been told that such a question is not polite.
Until they have be taught correctly, it’s still simply childish behavior.
- Do not expect your child to draw connections. Teaching your child to be quiet in one setting is not going to mean that your child will be able to enter a similar setting and draw the conclusion that it is likely necessary to be quiet in the new setting also.
- As children get older, they are better able to make those connections and judgement but younger children are not.
- Do not freak out. Maintain your “cool.” Be patient with your child. Be kind in correcting. Overreaction on your part will stress your child out. No one likes to be berated for accidents, including children. I guess no one really likes to be berated no matter the reason. Harsh correction can influence self-worth and make children anxious.
- Encourage your child to improve and keep working at it. Accept our child’s best effort.
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Have patience for these moments of childish behavior–they happen quite often. You can do your best to prevent them, but you will still encounter childish behavior. Welcome to parenthood :)