This is such an important topic!!!  When our kids do some kind of unacceptable behavior, we tend to have the immediate goal of stopping the behavior.  This is like having a weed growing in your sidewalk and just cutting off the top. It’s going to come back.  We need to be concerned about the root cause.

If you don’t normally listen to the Let’s Parent on Purpose Podcast, I highly recommend you check out this week’s special interview with Bradley McCallister.

(Or click on the sidebar for iTunes, etc.)

My good friend and Christian Counselor Bradley McCallister has served as an adoptive counselor with Bethany Christian Services for the past five years.  He and his wife Brittany also recently adopted a 13 year old son from Ethiopia.  29 years old, and now the parent of a teenager from a different country.  Bradly has his Masters in counseling, but he’s getting his PhD. in life experience!  He and his wife have also started a business of making beautiful furniture and artwork out of reclaimed pieces of wood in order to spend more time with their son.  Check out their showroom and support them at

Here are the highlights from our conversation:

  • When our kids do some kind of unacceptable behavior, we tend to have the immediate goal of stopping the behavior.  This is like having a weed growing in your sidewalk and just cutting off the top. It’s going to come back.  We need to be concerned about the root cause.
  • All behavior has a motivation.  We need to be curious as to why they are exhibiting this behavior.
    • We want to ask ourselves “why are they doing this?”  “what are they getting out of this behavior?”
    • In some circumstances we can ask them “why”?  But sometimes they might not be able to verbalize it or fully understand themselves.  As they get older, sometimes they might know the reasons why but feel ashamed, embarrassed, or fearful of explaining why.
    • The vast majority of unacceptable behaviors have the root of fear and sadness.
  • When dealing with unacceptable behaviors, we want to remember that our emotion is ONE tool in the toolbox.  It’s like a hammer.  Sometimes a job calls for a hammer.  But sometimes it calls for a screwdriver or wrench or pliers.  If you use a hammer for the wrong jobs, you do a lot of damage.
    • As exasperating as behaviors are, we need to work hard to swallow our emotions, deal with they symptoms, and get at the roots.  Our reactions train our children.  If we are dramatic, exasperated, and emotional every time something doesn’t go our way (like their behavior), we are training them that emotional tidal waves are the natural way to deal with life’s struggles.
    • When we respond with anger and exasperation, we also train them to keep secrets.
    • Again, sometimes our emotions can be powerfully effective, but other times they really get in the way of discovery and resolution of the root cause.
  • Discovery can be a process.  Sometimes you’re not going to be able to figure it out in the moment.  With boys especially, face to face conversations might not work.  Go on a drive together, throw a football, play a video game with each other.  As you’re doing something together, side by side, talk about the issue.  You might get much better feedback if they don’t have to look at you.
  • None of this excuses the behavior or negates the presence of sin.  But Jesus can be a model for us as he dealt with sinners.  With the woman at the well, Jesus didn’t come out of the gate chastising her immoral lifestyle.  He worked to built trust, openness, a ready heart to listen.  This doesn’t mean that at any time he was OK with her having five husbands or living with a man.  He simply drew out the conversation long enough to get at the deeper heart need.
  • Sometimes you might have to indulge behaviors (not sinful behaviors) to see where it goes.
    •  For instance, if you have a child who is insisting on baby talk far beyond an acceptable age, you don’t just want them to stop.  You want to understand what’s motivating them to do this.  You might try going along with it, treating them like a baby for a little bit.  Sometimes this is enough to get them to come out of it.  (I know, it sounds exasperating to me too).
    • Another example would be a teen that wants to dress sloppily, darkly, etc.  If they’re not dressing immorally, try going along with it for some time, resisting the urge to tell them “you look terrible,” “you’re not showing that you respect yourself”, or “you’re embarrassing me.”  Remember, they’re dressing that way for a reason.  If you can get past your initial resistance, you might create a safe space for them to open up to you on why they feel compelled to dress in that particular way.  Then you get to work on affirming what’s good in them and coaching them out of it.
  • Sometimes the bad behavior is exhibited because we don’t really pay attention and affirm good behavior.  Especially in homes with multiple kids, the well behaved chid can get overlooked.  To a kid, negative attention is still attention.  Proactively affirm the simple, normal, good things they do.  This might solve a lot of the problem.

This stuff is hard work, but it’s good work.  It’s what we signed up to do by bringing children into the world.  Work this week on discovering the “why” behind behaviors.  Listen to the podcast.  And next week, come back to hear part 2: Matching Behavior and Consequences.

Don’t forget, it’s a marathon, not a sprint!