• Brad Eck

Do Kids "Misbehave?"

Along with all the variant wokisms of the world today, there's a new (and dangerous) mindset toward obedience that is bent on removing it from our vocabulary. This translates to the idea that kids don't behave badly, but that our expectations of them are just incorrect because behavior is an offset of the expectations you have.

Well, ok then, we'll go with that premise. Having raised both autistic (ND) and neuro-typical (NT) children, I offer my opinion and advice.

While raising Daniel (NT) was quite an experience, we oft cited the 3 d's: disobedience, defiance, and deceit. These were daily battles - and all source themselves at the heart of the individual. And to be clear, my ND child is brilliant ... as is yours. Don't ever underestimate their ability to understand. As some have said, ND kids need to understand the rules and then will hold fast to them (and make you hold fast to them as well). But if they don't understand them, they will fight you the whole time, even to the point of a meltdown.

Now, to be fair, I need to pull back and talk about our worldview for a minute. A perspective as simplistic as "man is inherently good" will dramatically differ ones approach to this issue compared to one who believes "man is inherently evil."

So, let me give you my worldview (and why) so you at least have context to the advise I provide - whether or not you agree. While, in the end, you may not agree, at least you will understand my approach and how I came to the conclusion - and that is the basis for good debate.

I am unapologetically Christian and I believe wholly in the Word of God (the Bible). And therefore, I believe that when Eve ate the apple, sin entered the world. And that sin, in it's full nature, is selfishness. And because of that, we are by nature, selfish. Some might call that evil and some won't go that far, but few would go as far to call selfishness good.

Now, if you worldview is that people are inherently good, then the extension of that is that our kids will choose to do good naturally and we simply need to set our expectations accordingly.

So with that context, let's discuss misbehavior by starting with the definition:

"Failing to conduct oneself in a way that is acceptable to others." Now, I'd go as far to say this isn't a culturally sensitive definition, but for now let's go with the intent and tie context aro. As I referred above, it's easy to understand why defiance, disobedience, and deceit would be categorized as misbehavior.

And the opposite is "to behave: act or conduct oneself in a specified way, especially toward others." Submission, obedience, and honesty would be the positive forms of my example.

In either one of these cases, there is an acceptable and an unacceptable way to behave; but that "way" is based on "others" - or shall we say, the context of the situation (and by extension, very cultural).

Now, besides worldview, there's at least one other major player in the discussion which some would categorize into worldview but is worth calling out separately, and that is morality - the essence of what is deemed good vs bad. And this, to me, is the crux of this current conundrum brought to light. In today's culture, morality is relative. So without any basis of commonality, there will be no agreement on what is defined as "misbehavior." And more importantly, the subject of morality is incredibly hostile in today's culture so to even disagree is now considered a form of hate and/or terrorism.

The point here is that if morality is relative, then behavior is amoral - thus the perception that "misbehavior" is irrelevant.

OK, enough of the psycho-babble - because this whole conversation misses the fundamental point of misbehavior which is a parental expectation that went unmet. And let's go a step further and validate the expectation - there are some (not all) expectations that are, because of culture, growth, or whatever, fully valid. For example, if I tell my child, "don't play in the street", his disobedience will create an obvious safety problem.

An example of a bad expectation is that a child won't spill his milk at the table - and establishing a consequence if they knock it over (even if by accident). On the other hand, defiance is asking your child specifically to not spill their milk, and watching them (like a cat) purposefully knock it over. These are two different scenarios which requires two different responses - one is a consequence to an action the child didn't control (or no consequence at all), vs. a consequence to an action the child controlled purposefully counter to instruction.

And that brings us to consequences. The best lesson is through natural consequence - i.e. their actions will naturally lead to something that creates a personal desire to NOT do it again. An example of this is eating dirt and then throwing up later. Along those same lines are consequences for rules that are known up front. An example of this is not preparing for a test in school and getting an "F."

Kids need consequences. Positive reinforcement, but the "re" is the key - i.e. it supports learning. There is a place for both - a negative consequence AND a positive reinforcement. And your child is unique. Anyone who believes their answer is the best for your child is wrong. Especially your special needs child. You have to work through this one. Its tough, and the repetition is brutal. But your kids need rules, and those rules must have consequences.

Your kid is smart ... probably more so than anyone gives him credit. Establish logical rules, communicate the consequences, and apply them consistently. And if you have multiple kids, the application of consistency is even more vital. And if you have NT and ND kids like me, it's even more difficult as your ND kid will see unfairness all over the place. Find a balance and work through it. It's exhausting, but you can do it. And your kids will all be better for it.