Why Good Behavior is the Wrong Goal for Parenting


We all want our kids to be happy and healthy but what does this mean? A seductive answer is, 'our kids are well behaved'. I say seductive because well behaved kids are much easier and more pleasant to be with (not to mention they incur much less judgement in the grocery store!)...so we often want to say that good behavior is the barometer for good parenting. While controlled behavior can be a sign of strong psychological health in a child it can also be a mask for a child who is fragile psychologically and could use help but has gotten the message that their true feelings are not welcomed (spoiler alert: this does not equal happy and healthy).

Instead, I would propose that emotional: security, regulation and intelligence should be the primary goals. Meaning, we should be concerned with responding supportively to our kids' feelings and then helping our kids be able to feel their emotions and understand: what they are feeling, why they are feeling and what their feelings mean. The psychological skills that these goals bring are truly the ones that help a person feel happy and healthy across the multiple worlds that we all live in daily (home, family, school, work, friends, etc.). Benefits of these skills include: greater emotional peace, greater self knowledge, greater self esteem, greater ability to trust, greater friend making skills, etc.

Don't get me wrong, behavior is important and limits that promote basic social skills and respect for authority should be taught but I don't believe it should be the most important thing of parenting (I also believe that greater attention on being responsive to emotions and helping regulation will decrease the need for limits and rules). The reason is, focusing primarily or only on behavior gives children the message that other people's needs are the only ones that matter. This breeds conflict in children. For, when they feel their emotions/needs and they don't have a healthy story about their needs it causes the child to experience the impossible problem of, "I need but I'm not aloud to need" or "I need but needing will get me into trouble". This bind can cause all kinds of problems with self esteem and healthy relating.

Suggested readings for more about this are:  

No Drama Discipline  By: Dan Seigal and Tina Bryson Pane

Why Kids Lie  By: Paul Ekman