We all know that kids will push the envelope and we need to keep our boundaries… but sometimes it’s hard to tell what to do in certain situations. It’s hard to know whether our children are being disobedient or whether they’re just “being children.”
Every single diaper. And some wipes.
With the empty container.
And that look on his face…
It’s a common parental dilemma… do I let this slide or do I need to do some discipline her? Often we get confused because we rightly think, “Well, they’re just kids, what do they know?” We don’t want to be permissive nor do we want to be lax.
We want to keep nice reasonable predictable boundaries for our children. We want to be sure they follow the family rules, but we also don’t want to be too strict. Ever the balancing act.
Here’s one way we can be sure we aren’t just punishing our kids for being… well… kids.
The Difference Between Childishness and Bad Behavior
It’s important we are consistent. It’s already important we model grace for our children. Here’s how we can be sure we aren’t being overly strict in our quest to raise children who are respectful.
Childishness doesn’t know better
“There’s a first time for everything.”
If your child does something for the first time, odds are they’re just being kids. I’d never encourage disciplining or giving a consequence to a child who did something they’d never done before. This may be coloring on walls, dumping flour and sugar all over the floor, or even something slightly dangerous.
After these events you can explain the rules, be clear about your expectations, and maybe even share what consequence they’ll receive if they disobey. But then you move on. Pretty much everything about life is unknown to our little ones. We can’t forget that.
Childishness is curiosity
I have one child who is relentlessly curious. About All The Things. This means I’m frequently annoyed because he’s frequently doing things that I wish he didn’t. Emptying tool boxes and playing Handy Manny.
Looking at tons of books at once and leaving them in piles on the floor.
If your child is naturally curious they’ll likely do quite a few things that seem “naughty.” If they already know something is off limits, their curiosity should be managed with their growing levels of self-control.
If they don’t know what is and isn’t off limits, curiosity is not disobedience.
Bad Behavior can be repetitive
My curious child loves to dig through my husband’s wallet. This has gone past curiosity into disobedience territory. Why? Because he’s done it enough times – with consequences – to know he shouldn’t.
A repetitive behavior that is clearly outside of family rules and boundaries becomes disobedience.
If your child does something over and over again they know they shouldn’t, this requires consequences and discipline. You can get obedience without constant lecturing, but it requires you being consistent and not waving to and fro.
Negative Behavior has intent
When kids do something out of curiosity or boredom, that’s not bad intent. Sure we may have to be very clear in how we respond so they don’t repeat it (like hanging out near busy roads, etc.) but we know there was no intent.
One of my children wakes up earlier than the others and knows he isn’t allowed out of his room.
However, he only stays in his room around half the time. He knows it’s wrong, he runs away and hides if he sees me, and he makes up excuses. Then, he admits defeat.
Clearly I haven’t found a perfect consequence or he wouldn’t repeat the infraction regularly, but at this point it is not curiosity. It is not innocence. It is flat out disobedience.
Childishness should be disciplined (trained), not punished, Foolishness the Opposite
I do think we underestimate our children’s ability to know right from wrong. My kids will often do something once and, as I’m discovering the situation, will apologize or say they they probably shouldn’t have done it.
If the kids know they’ve done something wrong, just enact the consequence and move on. No need for lectures. Certainly no need for shaming. But do be consistent.
If a child does something they know is wrong or harmful, this is foolishness not childishness.
Don’t be afraid to extend grace.
Don’t be afraid to enact consequences.
Kids will be kids… so let us parents be parents.