It's About Them

Young People … Our Greatest Resource

Part 2 of 3: Why Some Behavior is Inappropriate


Young people (or adults for that matter) really have no cause to act out in their behavior if things are going well for them. Why should they? Persistently poor behavior is a statement of misery. Nothing new here.

For the most part, the behavior of children and adolescents is the barometer that reflects the state of their relationships at home and school. I believe kids are respectful and kind by nature (the core of Dr. Marshall’s work), qualities that can be reinforced by caring adults. When a child’s behavior is inappropriate, we’re pretty good at addressing it, but addressing the behavior doesn’t always solve the circumstances within the youngster that created it. Effective intervention has always been a two, not a one-step, process. First, we stop the inappropriate behavior. Second, we attempt to address why the child is so unhappy.

How do we know a child is unhappy? Ask them! Sometimes that’s all we need to do. This doesn’t mean that we can always fix the problem. (What if Suzie is still very upset that Grandma died?) We can, however, let the child know that we are there to support them, and will support them, but that their behavior is wrong and must stop.

What if a child says, “I don’t know,” when we ask them why they are unhappy? Unless we have a useful tool for prying the “real” truth out of the child, we have to accept their answer, show our support, and continue to show it.

Sometimes we can suggest possibilities like, “You know, Suzie, ever since Grandma died, it seems like you’ve been angry a lot. Is it because you are so sad about Grandma?” Again reflect back to the child that, regardless of her sadness, Suzie has no call to be inappropriate in her behavior, but you will do what you can to help her through the difficult times. In this example you can’t bring Grandma back, but you can assure Suzie that you are there for her, and that, day-by-day, things will get a little better. I’ve also encountered youngsters who knew why they were sad, but didn’t want to say for fear of consequences or for fear that their feelings wouldn’t be honored. Whenever we ask a child to tell us the truth about something, we should validate the courage it might take to tell it. Most adults know exactly what that feels like.

James Sutton, Educator and Psychologist


July 11, 2006 - Posted by | Difficult Child, Educators, Parents

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