The reality is that most of us have behaved like a jerk at one time or another. We might have been rude to a telemarketer or short tempered with our spouse. Maybe we had a long day and lost it at the check-out person. I am sure you can come up with a list more inclusive than this one, but you get what I mean.
None of us are perfect. At one time or another we have all made mistakes. Just the other day my 2 year old threw her dinner across the room and guess what popped in my head?!
It seems like every day I hear parents in real life and on social media complaining that kids today are disrespectful, they speak about sexual acts inappropriately or bully kids who don't seem to fit in.
The general theme is that there is something wrong with this generation. We want an answer. We want the offenders given a good talking to. We want to make this about some other person’s kid and we want to hold someone accountable.
What if it is YOUR kid that they are talking about? What responsibility do you have to guide them around appropriate behavior?
In my opinion when we realize our kid is acting like a jerk it is a perfect time to look at our own behaviors, past and present, to reflect on why this behavior is showing up in our reality. There is no blame here and I know that having a child who acts out is causing YOU a lot of stress. I want to invite you to view this experience as gift, for both you and your child. Many children who act out are struggling with ADD, ADHD, ODD and anxiety. These behaviors are a result of a developing brain or a brain that has been emotionally hijacked. While the behavior is bad, this doesn't mean the child is bad. It just means that there are some developmental and life skills that need to be learned or cultivated. Thankfully, all of these symptoms can be reduced and children who demonstrate these behaviors can grow into successful adults. I am living proof of that.
How can you have compassion for yourself, your child and the situation, as well as use it as an opportunity to grow and become a better parent(and person)?
Here are a few ideas to consider if your child is demonstrating behaviors that are impacting social relationships, causing them to get into trouble in school or with other adults.
Take an Mindful approach
Please have compassion for yourself and your child. You are doing the best you can with the information and knowledge you have. You also have to accept that your child has something going in their life and it is requiring you to give them more guidance or resources. Refrain from placing blame on other kids, the poor adult role models or Netflix for your child’s misguided behaviors. Do not be a victim, because then there is no room to take empowered action and teach your child a new skill set that will make their life better. Take some time to see how you can spend more time with your child to understand what is going on underneath their acting out. Learning to practice mindfulness skills like body awareness, emotional awareness and self-compassion is a necessity for both of you. If you don't know how to do this there are many types of counselors or therapists that can act as a guide.
Cultivate empathy for other people
When we don't consider the feelings of the person that we are directing our misbehavior towards we tend to be more cruel. We are not thinking about what it might feel like to be in their shoes. We have made them into the other rather than seeing that we are all in this together. We are all born with the ability to have empathy, but through life experience sometimes this innate skill is turned off to protect the ego or herd mentality. Help your child to become curious and ask how they might feel like if someone treated them the way they were treating others. Ask them how it would feel to be on the receiving end. Ask how they would feel if it was their sister or mother being spoken about. You might even want to role play a little with them and you take on the role of the asshole.
Put yourself in your kids shoes
It is REALLY hard to be a young person today. The child stage seems to be getting shorter and shorter. The truth is that as much as they want to pretend like little grown-ups their brains just don’t have the ability to make the best decisions. They are living in the moment and to a teen if it feels good NOW, then it must be the right thing to do. I don’t believe that this an excuse for misbehavior, but I think it is important to understand what we are up against.
Take a moment to imagine growing up right now. Think about the pressures you would feel. How would you handle all of it? Begin to cultivate empathy for your child to understand why they are behaving badly. This is also a great way to understand better the types of resources you might want to bring in to support them in making better choices. How can you allow your child to make their own decisions and also keep them safe?
Try to figure out what the misbehavior is communicating
Now is the perfect time to get curious. They aren’t treating their grandparents this way so you know that there is a deeper meaning behind what is going on. When you have a few quiet moments to think ask yourself these questions.
Do they feel that in order to fit in they have to act this way? Do they have appropriate role models for how to behave in public? Do they have an undiagnosed anxiety disorder or ADHD? Do they need more 1-1 time with you or another caring adult? Do they need more productive activities in their life? Are they doing too many activities? Do they know how to manage stress and anxiety?
There are a million reasons why people act out so now you get to be a detective to figure out what is going on. A great book to give you a better understanding of the teen mind is Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain by Dan Siegel.
Teach them to care about something other than themselves
Another book I love is The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck by Mark Manson. If you haven’t read it I highly recommend it. The bottom line is that we all care about something AND we are happier people when we care about things that make the world a better place to live in. Is it in your values to take care of less fortunate people, the planet and your community? Have you demonstrated by your actions that these are your values? What can you do to show your child how much they have to be grateful for?
Take a moment to think about your child and the person you see them becoming. Are there any life or personal skills that you feel are out of balance and require additional learning? Set an intention to pick one thing this week to support your child in becoming a compassionate adult.
I love teenagers and when I was young I was a huge jerk. It took a lot of growth and maturity for me to begin to take responsibility for my misbehavior. It wasn't my parents fault that I was a selfish jerk, but they certainly were the ones who suffered because of if it. If you are worried about your child's behavior and looking for some support please feel free to reach out. I promise there will be no judgement and it will be confidential.
One day your child could be running the country. Don’t you want to make sure that it is not run by an jerk?
Jennifer Bronsnick, MSW, LCSW is passionate about supporting moms and families to be resilient. As a mother of three daughters under 8 and a survivor of postpartum depression and anxiety Jennifer knows exactly how challenging motherhood can be. She also knows that there is hope for all of us and with accurate information, support and inspiration that mothers and families can thrive.
Jennifer’s years of clinical experience as a social worker and her own personal journey gives her the unique ability to guide other moms on their path to health and wellness. You can also learn more about Jennifer, the services she offers and purchase her books on maternal self-care HERE.