Creative Child

Beyond Behavior: Looking at the Heart of a Child

by Rebecca Eanes

All three faces on his behavior chart were flipped to the sad face side. Again. That meant he had to go to time-out. Again. It didn’t take much to get a card flipped on the chart, which I thought was a simple and brilliant concept. From a sheet of construction paper labeled 'Behavior Chart' hung 3 cards, each with a happy face on one side and a sad face on the other.

My children started each day with 3 happy faces. Everything I deemed a misbehavior, from fighting with brother to not obeying my rules and commands, meant a card got flipped over. Three sad faces resulted in a time-out – three minutes to sit in a little chair in the hallway alone to “think about what he’d done.” At the time, it felt like a fair system of discipline, which I was assured needed to be completely consistent lest my children should get the idea that I could be manipulated.

Yet, every day was the same thing. Faces got flipped regularly as my immature children failed to spontaneously grow their brains upon my command. Time-out was enforced consistently, but no improvement in behavior resulted. I only saw more defiance. Frustrated and disconnected from my sweet little ones, I decided this story had to change.

It took a lot of research and heart searching to change my views on behavior, but what I finally came to believe was that discipline wasn’t about flipping sad faces on cards but about flipping sad faces on people. Discipline is reaching and teaching the heart.

Behavior is an outward reflection of the inner state and so poor behavior is a signal to me that my child is in need of help to restore his inner state to peace (or he needs to be taught specific skills). Defiance, though, is a heart issue and can only be resolved by restoring heart-to-heart connection.

The way our society views children doesn’t make this shift easy. For a couple of years, I bought into the wild accusations that my child would try to walk all over me, run my home, and become a nightmare if I didn’t put my iron fist down right away. I believed that discipline must be calculated, swift, and consistent. Although I considered myself “positive” because I didn’t use physical discipline, the goal was still to control behavior, albeit as nicely as I could.

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