I’ve completed four subjects of my psychology degree and I’m sitting on a high distinction average. That means I have received a mark of between 85 and 100% for every unit I have studied. Jack (my 15 yr old son) would tell me I was bragging (and yeah, I suppose I am) but read on and you will see why this is relevant to this post.

A couple of weeks ago I worked as a casual teacher on a class with two children who had “challenging behaviours”, a 9 yr old boy (let’s call him Sam) and a 9 yr old girl (let’s call her Fi).

Sam and Fi’s behaviours included things like; not joining in activities, walking around the room when they were asked to sit down, talking to other students when they were supposed to be working quietly, walking out of the room without permission, being silly to make the other kids laugh, throwing things across the room and arguing with each other.

I was warned by the Principal and another teacher that these two often found it difficult to follow instructions, so I didn’t take their behaviour personally.

If I had to make a generous guess, I would say Sam had difficulty managing his behaviour for about 16 mins (if I added up every second of every behaviour) in the morning, 8 minutes in the middle lesson and 6 minutes in the afternoon. Fi had trouble managing her behaviour for about 12 minutes in the morning, 6 minutes in the middle and she was fine in the afternoon. At morning tea and lunch both kids were happy playing in the playground without any incidents.

All kids at school are expected to manage their behaviour from 9 to 3pm – that’s 6 hours. Sam wasn’t able to do this for 30 mins and Fi wasn’t able to do this for 18 mins. Let’s do some math to work out their percentage mark for being able to “manage their behaviour”.

6 x 60 = 360 minutes at school.

The percentage of time Sam was not able to manage his behaviour was 30/360 x 100 = 8.3%
Fi’s percentage of unmanaged behaviour was 18/360 x 100 = 5%

If we marked “managing your behaviour” in the same way a university assessor marks a subject at Uni, then Sam would receive a mark of 91.7% and Fi a mark of 95%.

In other words, both children received high distinctions for managing their behaviour on the day I was there. A high distinction (HD) is considered an outstanding effort! Interesting when you look at it like that isn’t it?

So why isn’t a HD good enough? Why are teachers, parents and society horrified when a child does not or cannot manage their behaviour less than ten percent of the time?

My theory is we are scared!

I’ll speak for myself…

I am scared I can’t keep kids safe if they don’t follow instructions. I’m also scared other people will judge me as being a shitty parent or teacher if I can’t control the kids I am responsible for.

The reality of parenting and teaching is that we cannot control any child’s behaviour.

The only person who can control a child’s behaviour is the child!

It is therefore not my job to “control” children. It is my job however, to teach and support kids to manage their behaviour so they can meet their needs in respectful ways.

Kids get in the habit of not managing their behaviour in respectful ways because their Shady behaviour meets their needs for safety and security, love and belonging, importance and purpose.

Sam and Fi were trying to meet their needs for love and belonging, importance and purpose by; showing off, refusing to follow instructions and getting the teacher (me) to give them attention for doing the wrong thing. Despite their bad habits, they both managed to control their behaviour in respectful ways for 91.7% and 95% of the time.

Interesting huh?

Isn’t it time we looked at challenging behaviour in a different way? Here are some points we could consider…

1. Our society has extremely high expectations of children being able to manage their behaviour. A high distinction is not good enough. What if we treated kids who couldn’t read at a high distinction level the same way we treat kids who can’t behave respectfully all the time?

2. What we focus on grows! Whatever we give our attention to gets bigger in our (and other people’s) awareness. When we focus on the 8.3% and 5% of disrespectful behaviour we are likely to get more of it and we are likely to think it is happening more than it is!

3. Some kids need more support than other kids to manage their behaviour and meet their needs in loving, respectful ways. Just like some kids need more support to read.

4. Being fearful of kids who don’t always follow instructions and trying to manage them in fearful ways (threatening them, punishing them, belittling them in front of their peers etc) doesn’t work! Just like threatening, punishing and belittling a child who can’t read doesn’t work!

5. Being patient, loving and respectful when supporting and teaching kids to meet their needs in loving ways does work – eventually. So does focusing on the 91.7% and the 95% of the time they are managing themselves respectfully.

6. Teaching kids how they work also works! When we explain to kids that they have a Sparky and a Shady and that they can choose to meet their needs in loving or fearful ways they start to understand why they behave the way they do and realise the Shady way isn’t actually helping them.

If you have a child or teach a child with challenging behaviours you need to be incredibly courageous to manage them in loving, patient and supportive ways when other people might be judging you for being “too soft”.

I’m not suggesting you allow children to be disrespectful, instead I am suggesting that when a child is disrespectful you remain respectful!

With time, love and your Sparky role modelling you may even get a child with a history of challenging behaviour to get a perfect 100% (which would still be a HD! Haha!)

Love Kathy