The ways in which we guide the misbehavior of young people says something about who God is to us.
When I worked at the South Boston Boys and Girls Club, there was a little girl named Jill who decided to be my shadow. This would be a sweet story except that Jill was an angry shadow. Due to the life experiences she faced during the seven years she was on the planet, she learned to express her fondness and need for attention with violence. As soon as she arrived at the Club, she would immediately run up to me and punch me. She would grab onto me until I did what she wanted. When I ignored her, she would ruin the games I played with other children. I wish I could say I was always loving in my treatment of Jill, but after weeks of this behavior, I often spoke to her out of my frustration. I tried several strategies — from time-outs to talking to the director about the situation — and none of them worked.
At some point, I was exposed to the Cooperative Discipline Model, by Linda Albert. In this positive behavior guidance approach, most misbehavior has its root in something the child wants. After being exposed to this model, I began to understand that Jill was simply seeking attention. Armed with better strategies, the next time I saw Jill, I proactively asked to talk with her. I asked her if she liked playing games with me. She nodded her head to say “yes.” I told her that I liked playing games with her too, but I also needed to spend time with the other kids. She agreed with me. I offered to make her a deal. I said, “Jill, if you want to play with me, just come up to me and ask me politely. When you do that, I will either play with you right then or tell you exactly when I am available — down to the minute. Is it a deal?” She excitedly shook her head to say “yes.” I never had a problem with Jill after that. She learned how to get what she wanted without misbehaving.
Guiding the behavior of children does not always go this way. Strategies do not always work immediately, and sometimes counseling or other interventions are needed. However, the way we treat others and conduct ourselves in social settings are things we need to be taught. How we are taught has a big impact on our self-image and mental wellness.