|Most parents and teachers think of children as
either "behaving" or "misbehaving". This
labeling of behavior as "good" and "bad"
begins when the child is quite young. In our [P.E.T. and T.E.T.]
training programs we try to help parents see that children don't
Interestingly enough, the term is almost exclusively applied to
children – seldom to adults. We never hear people
- ''My husband misbehaved yesterday."
- "One of our guests misbehaved at the party last
- "I got so angry when my friend misbehaved during
- "My employees have been misbehaving lately.''
Apparently, it's only children who are seen as misbehaving - no
one else. Misbehavior is exclusively parent and teacher
language, tied up somehow with how adults have traditionally
viewed children. It is also used in almost every book on parenting
I've read, and I've read quite a few.
I think adults say a child misbehaves whenever some specific
action is judged as contrary to how the adult thinks the
child should behave. The verdict of misbehavior, then, is clearly
a value judgment made by the adult - a label placed on some
particular behavior, a negative judgment of what the child is
doing. Misbehavior thus is actually a specific action of the child
that is seen by the adult as producing an undesirable consequence
for the adult. What makes a child's behavior misbehavior
(bad behavior) is the perception that the behavior is, or might
be, bad behavior for the adult. The "badness'' of the
behavior actually resides in the adult's mind, not the child's;
the child in fact is doing what he or she chooses or needs to do
to satisfy some need.
Put another way, the adult experiences the badness, not
the child. Even more accurately, it is the consequences of the
child's behavior for the adult that are felt to be bad (or
potentially bad), not the behavior itself.
When parents and teachers grasp this critical distinction, they
experience a marked shift in attitude toward their children or
students. They begin to see all actions of youngsters simply as
behaviors, engaged in solely for the purpose of getting needs
met. When adults begin to see children as persons like
themselves, engaging in various behaviors to satisfy normal human
needs, they are much less inclined to evaluate the behaviors as
good or bad.
Accepting that children don't really misbehave doesn't mean,
however, that adults will always feel accepting of what
they do. Nor should they be expected to, for children are bound to
do things that adults don't like, things that interfere with their
own "pursuit of happiness.'' But even then, the child is not
a misbehaving or bad child, not trying to do something to the
adult, but rather is only trying to do something for
Only when parents and teachers make this important shift -
changing the locus of the problem from the child to the adult -
can they begin to appreciate the logic of non-power alternatives
for dealing with behaviors they don't accept.