Recently there seems to have been a flush of television shows, radio programmes and press articles discussing the issue of children’s behaviour. Most of them putting forward the opinion that it is getting worse.
This got me thinking, what do we actually mean when we talk about good behaviour?
On the one hand, I think we are talking about a base level of treating our fellow human beings well - as we would like to be treated ourselves - and that spans across all age groups. However, whilst we might talk about an adult behaving badly, crossing the line of what is acceptable in polite company (whether due to alcohol or bad temper or both), we very rarely talk about our peers as being well behaved. This is reserved for children. The reason seems clear, and I think if one of my friends told me I’d been very well behaved I’d feel pretty patronised, why should we expect our children to feel any differently?
We might jokingly talk about being on our ‘best behaviour’, and when we do it’s likely to be in a situation where we feel there is an unwarranted sense of import or authority. When we tell our children to be on their best behaviour, we mean it. Perhaps we shouldn’t be so surprised when they rebel against the instruction.
A lot of the time, and certainly in the school environment, when we talk about good behaviour, we are really talking about children following instructions and doing what we want them to without argument or fuss. Although at the same time, we often profess that we want them to develop critical thinking and the ability to learn independently and be self-motivated. Hmmm.
What is it that we really want and how can we get it?
I think the trick is to stop trying to be quite so controlling, whilst also realising that children need to know there are consequences if they misbehave. Children are desperate to be given some credit and to be treated as if they are capable. In my experience, if you give children responsibility they are far more likely to rise to the occasion than if you give them orders. They may not achieve a 100% perfect track record, but which of us can lay claim to that? And if they do let you down, then the consequence is something they will take on board in a much more personal way if they feel they have disappointed your expectations, rather than just disobeyed your authority. Perhaps the secret to getting good behaviour from our children is to give them a solid explanation of what is required of them and why, accompanied by a good enough reason for them to want to behave, for themselves as much as for you.