Expert Parenting Advice
Practical parenting tips and advice from experts around the world

Why bad behavior is good

How to turn your child's bad behavior into an opportunity for connection and teaching.

A few days ago, our family was having a relaxing dinner together.

The two kids were talking with each other, and we adults could just enjoy our food without distraction, for a change.

But it was not to last...

Suddenly, my 6 year old son started making a "Whoooo-whoooo" sound. Like a ghost.

My 4 year old daughter shouted "No, don't do that" and burst into tears. She ran to hide behind the couch. "I am scared of ghosts," I could hear her muttering.

For the rest of the dinner, no matter how much I tried to tell her "There's no such thing as ghosts," she wouldn't come out. "I'm too scared to eat," she kept repeating.

Of course, now that her brother knows that this sound bothers her, he keeps doing it. And each time he makes the ghost sound, my daughter freaks out, runs away, and cries.

I get so frustrated when he does this, because I have to go and calm her down each time.

I hate it when they fight or tease each other.

But, after thinking about this problem, I realized that this is the perfect opportunity to follow Dr. Hilary Mandzik's advice about finding out what your child’s “bad” behavior is telling you about them.

Dr. Hilary is a licensed psychologist and a mom of three, and she specialises in supporting parents to raise confident kids with less stress (and more joy!).

When I interviewed Dr. Hilary, she said:

I look at all behavior as communication. So, if you ask your child to do something and they fall apart, that to me is data.

That tells me, “Okay, something’s going on with my kid. My child needs something right now. My child is missing the skill to deal with this appropriately.” And I don’t necessarily know which thing is going on in any given moment. So, when I see my kiddo melt down over something that shouldn’t be a big deal, I’m going to get curious.

Dr. Hilary Mandzik

Thinking about my son's bad behavior from this angle, I realized that he likes the power and attention that he gets from making a ghost sound and getting the big reaction from his sister.

So, instead of getting mad at him, or trying to punish him, I can start thinking of ways that I can give him more attention and more power.

Because the more I can help fulfill his needs in positive ways, the less he will have to fill them in negative ways.

And by reframing his bad behavior as an opportunity to teach him, it also makes it much easier for me to stay calm.