Why do our kids behave the way they do? I get asked a version of this question all the time.
Just this week, I got a message from a mom who has been frustrated that her 5-year-old son whines constantly. I got another message from a mom whose teenage son does not want to disconnect from his video games. These moms needs a compass.
As I thought of how to respond to these two moms, I realized that although their challenges differ quite a bit, the root of my answer would be the same. Then I realized it may help if I write a blog, record a podcast and share more about this powerful concept.
What does an iceberg have to do with my family?
That’s a great question! Imagine for a moment looking at an iceberg from the water level. You would see a tiny bit above the surface of the water. Below, you would see a HUGE chunk that you cannot see on the surface.
That little bit on the top is your child’s behavior. In the case of these two moms above, it is the whining and the obsession with the video games. It can also be a tantrum, talking back, disrespect, and basically any type of behavior. For our purposes, we will look at any undesirable behavior our child displays.
All too often we get stuck on the behavior our child is displaying. We may get triggered, scared, frustrated, embarrassed, angry – and we may yell, threaten and/or punish.
But this is not necessary at all and there is a better way. Want to know what it is?
Behavior is a form of communication. It is NOT the thing to focus on. But as parents we get caught in the trap of focusing on it constantly, until we learn a more effective way.
Behavior has shown up to tell us there is some unmet need under the surface (of the iceberg) for the child. Rather than becoming the enforcer of better behavior, our job then is to:
- Become a detective
- Determine what the unmet need is
- Figure out how we can go about meeting the unmet need
In the case of these two moms, perhaps the five-year-old is tired or hungry. Perhaps he is jealous of his newborn sister. Perhaps his mom and dad have been busy and have not had a lot of quality time to spend with him recently.
If Mom and Dad can figure out the need, they can:
- feed him or put him to bed early
- spend some real quality time with him to let him know they see and honor him
Of course, there may be another need under the surface, but the idea is to put that detective hat on and investigate.
In the case of the teenager who is very attached to his video games, it may be that he is using the games as an escape from something that is troubling him in “real” life. Or perhaps, as with my sons, he is playing the video game with his friends who are also online, and this is a strong form of socialization for them in this generation.
Be the investigator
Investigating what is under the surface in this case may require mom or dad sitting down with their son while he plays the video game. Perhaps they could ask him what he likes about the game. How it works. Whether he plays it alone or with others. Or if anything else is on his mind.
Both of my boys are very into the latest game called Fortnite. My teenager and I have talked a lot about it actually. He explained that this game is so popular because the creators offer it as a free game (which makes it accessible to EVERYONE) and add in-app purchases to make their money. Therefore, you can play it with all of your friends because the only requirement is to download the game. With other games, it depends if your friend has purchased the game or not.
Looking at your child through the lens of the iceberg is a very powerful approach.
I understood why my sons are both so drawn to the game by talking with him that day. Sometimes, they work out strategy quite successfully with their friends in this game. I also hear when they have a disagreement with their friend that we may need to talk about when the game is over. Sometimes, the struggle has been so intense and upsetting, I have had to ask my son to exit out of the game.
In this case with this teenage boy, once this mom knows what is under the surface of the water, perhaps she and her son can negotiate an amount of time to play or a time of day to play. Beware though, because games like Fortnite are most fun when they play with their friends, which requires them to all be on at the same time. And with kids’ schedules these days, those times can be hard to find. I try to honor those rare opportunities whenever I can with my boys.
Look beneath the surface
Once you know the root of the behavior (what is under the surface of the water), you can attempt to meet the unmet need. And many times, when we do this, the behavior simply vanishes. Without the need for punishment, yelling, blame or shame. It really is amazing to see it in action.
I encourage you to begin to look at your child’s behavior through the new lens of the iceberg and see if it helps you to understand what is going on better and dive underneath to meet the need your child has.
Click the button below if you would like a FREE Download of my iceberg. Mine has been hanging on my kitchen wall for years. It helps me at a glance to remember what I should really be focusing on. I hope it helps you as much as it has helped me.Download Iceberg Now!
I talked about the iceberg in this podcast episode.
And as always, if you feel that you would like more individual help really utilizing this powerful tool in your parenting, please schedule a time to chat with me here.