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Jewish World Review Feb. 25, 2004 / 3 Adar, 5764

Betsy Hart

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Consumer Reports

Giving ‘ain't misbehavin'’ new meaning | Do you know why children misbehave?

The folks at the Aware Parenting Institute do. "We can explain almost all unacceptable behavior in children by one of the following three factors" they say:


"The child is attempting to fill a legitimate need," "The child lacks information," or "The child is suffering from stress or unhealed traumas."

Not to be outdone, the parenting experts at Kansas State University have found twice as many reasons for why kids misbehave: "They have been rewarded for their misbehavior, they have copied what their parents do, they are testing whether their parents will enforce the rules, they are asserting themselves and their independence, they are protecting themselves," or "they feel bad about themselves."

Oops — wait, the experts over at the University of Minnesota have found no less than seven reasons why children misbehave:

They learn by observing others, they're growing up, they feel threatened, they feel bad about themselves, they are tired, or hungry or sick.

Actually, the "tired" reason is the one I hear the most: "I'm sorry little Timmy is destroying your house while screaming and constantly interrupting our conversation — he's really tired!"

I guess Timmy saves all his energy for tormenting his mom.

Anyway, if your boss yells and screams at you, makes ridiculous demands and otherwise attempts to make your life miserable, odds are you are not going to say to your spouse, "Wow, I really feel bad for my boss, he must really be trying to fill some legitimate need," or maybe, "Gee, he must feel really bad about himself!"

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You're going to say, "My boss is a selfish jerk! — I'm sorry if he's upset about something, but he still has no right to act that way!" And you would be right.

The question is, how do we help keep our kids from growing up to be that tyrannical boss?

By understanding that while kids might certainly misbehave because they are tired or immature, it's also true that sometimes, contrary to what the "experts" say, kids behave badly for the very same reasons adults do: because they can be selfish, self-absorbed and sometimes they want their way and they want it NOW.

I'm reminded of young Veruca in the famous "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory," who says, "But I want it NOW Daddy!" and Daddy always complies.

Selfishness is the human condition, and it hasn't changed much since the beginning of time. This used to be called "original sin." How do we know it's real?

Well, have you ever heard anyone say, "he's really frustrated" or "he's really not feeling well — that's why he's being so kind and generous"? No, our true self comes out when there are no inhibitions forcing us to hold it in — and that true self can have some pretty unappealing characteristics to it.

That's every bit as true for our kids. The reason a 2-year-old stomping his foot and demanding his way can sometimes be at least a little amusing is that he's only around 3 feet tall and 30 pounds.

Translate that into six feet tall and 200 pounds, and you've got a problem.

Of course, kids lack knowledge and are immature. So, when we stub our toe, we might limp for a minute and say, "It's OK" — whereas they scream bloody murder.

That's not misbehavior on their part, that's immaturity. And yes, sometimes, they are just exhausted. We have one daughter who sometimes hits "the tipping point" if she gets overtired — she just dissolves into tears and the only thing in the world to do is put her to bed, and remind ourselves for the hundredth time that she needs a bit more rest than the others.

But we also have to recognize that sometimes our children misbehave because their characters are flawed just like ours — and it's our job as parents to help them to recognize, and guard against, the flaws.

The "experts" may not want to talk about anything as unfashionable as the idea of a child having a flawed heart.

Fine. They just have to jump through hoops, then, to come up with explanations for why fourth grade boys regularly bully on the playground and seventh grade girls consistently perform vivisection on each other.

To always come up with every conceivable reason for a child's misbehavior — except that child's own heart — does him no favors.

Instead, the wise parent helps his child understand and seek to change, not excuse, the folly of his own heart.

Because for one thing, when he's an adult the "experts" won't be around to excuse his bad behavior for him anymore.

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JWR contributor Betsy Hart, a frequent commentator on CNN and the Fox News Channel, can be reached by clicking here.


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