Yesterday my wife took Emma to a child development class at a local junior college. The class needed to observe kids who were under two. When they got home she told me about a little boy who would hit the other kids, he even bit a girl and made her bleed. I guess the parents would scold the boy and tell him that he was a “bad boy” and they would yell at him each time he did this. However, the kid’s behavior kept getting progressively worse.
I wonder if at an early age we begin to fall in love with the wrong things. I’m not saying that this boy had bad parents, they truly didn’t want him biting and yet they were unintentionally re-enforcing his bad behavior. Just from the short time of observation, my wife noticed that the parents only gave their son attention when he was disobeying or being rude to the other kids. So the kid acted out and his parents gave him a lot of attention.
I have been working with teenage students since I was fifteen years old. I got my first job at a teen center mainly because I didn’t disclose my age and I looked older than I really was. Since I have been working with teenagers, I have met this disobedient baby over and over again. Their central goal is to bring others to anger and they end up getting negative attention, but it is attention. These teens learned at an early age to fall in love with the wrong thing.
So there are a few things that these experiences have reinforced in me. First, what you water grows. When you give attention to negative behavior you will always get negative behavior in return. Second, I couldn’t help but wonder what we train kids to love. Kids love attention and they need security and that is how they feel love. When they don’t get it in reinforcing words, they will take it in a scolding. I guess the tough part of all of this is that I’ve seen the end result. I have worked with students through junior high and high school and eventually college who all love negative attention.
Parents, here is my plea to you. First, love your children and when they do great things recognize that. Second, correct their bad behavior but don’t just tell them that they are bad or “no,” offer them something better instead. Third, verbally tell them that you love them and back it up with action. Kids go through rough patches when they misbehave, but when they are secure in the fact that they are loved then everything changes.
Remember, what you water grows.