When Little Leprechauns Turn Naughty
March 02, 2012
Posted By: Shaunescy
A special quest post by Jennifer A. Williams
Whenever St. Patrick’s Day comes around, I remember a story a mother at one of my
parenting classes told a few years ago. As it happened, she was not thinking about
shamrocks and leprechauns on the afternoon her son came home from kindergarten
with green hair. The little guy walked in the door gleefully, and the mom went ballistic
as soon as she saw him. What started out as a fun St. Patrick’s Day activity at school
turned into a catastrophe at home. “All I could see was a teenager standing there
with green hair, tattoos, a ring in his nose, and a chain hanging around his waist!” Her
mind had catapulted her into some imaginary future scene, and her fear set off a chain
As parents, sometimes we jump to conclusions about our children’s behavior. And
occasionally we react not from what is real but from what we imagine, like this mom did.
But how children behave rarely has anything to do with what we think it does. What we
label as naughty might not be what it seems.
There is a common misconception about behavior that sometimes causes us to react
too quickly. We tend to believe that behavior is either good or bad, acceptable or
unacceptable—no questions asked. This misconception causes us to react without
thinking, and it creates a lot of unnecessary difficulty with children. What we forget by
reducing behaviors to black and white is that children have their own unique perspective
and experience of the world. When we move to correct or coerce instead of observe
and honor children’s innate (and uncontrollable) need to experiment, explore, and grow,
children may turn into “naughty little leprechauns.”
Let’s face it, we adults can get pretty set in our ways. Once we define a behavior as
naughty, we have already blinded ourselves. We really do want to do what’s best for our
children—but in order to have more nice than naughty, we need to rethink the way we
approach their behavior.
I once coached a woman who had been in a major power struggle with her two-year-old
son for months. They lived on a very busy street in the city, and guess what he loved
to do? Yup, make a mad dash for the street! Was he being naughty? Some parents
would think so. He was driving his mom crazy, and her multiple spankings had no effect
whatsoever. She was worn down, stressed out, and exasperated.
So let’s dissect this “naughtiness.” Being chased is a powerful experience for a toddler.
To him, it was a game! The little boy’s gross motor development was in full swing and
screaming to be exercised. Breaking the taboo by running into the street made the
mischief that much more appealing. And being able to trigger mom in an instant was
extremely gratifying. “I have power!” But when we shifted her belief that his behavior
was bad to suspending judgment and looking for the needs driving the behavior instead,
the mom was able to rectify his behavior in just a few days. How?
First, whenever he ran toward or took one step into the street by himself, he was
immediately taken inside, firmly yet lovingly. He therefore lost the privilege of playing
outside, which he loved dearly. Second, the mom arranged chasing moments, but at her
discretion. In the safety of a fenced backyard, they played the chasing game, satisfying
his need for running to exercise his gross motor development, his need to feel powerful,
and the mom’s need to keep her son safe! And an added bonus was that they both had
So when your child is acting “naughty,” ask yourself, “If my child had a really good
reason for acting like this, what might it be?” Asking this simple question will help you
take a step back and pause before rushing in with a sharp word or a punishment you
may regret later (usually after the child is fast asleep, lying there looking angelic and
Your child needs elbow room to grow. When nice turns to naughty, look for the need
and meet it. Guaranteed: You’ll enjoy being a parent a whole lot more!
Jennifer Williams is a mother of three children, ages 18, 20, and 25 and lives with her husband in Livingston, Montana. As the founder of the Heartmanity Center, her passion is helping parents create loving and harmonious homes. She is an emotional fitness coach for couples as well as a behavioral consultant and a trainer for the International Network of Children and Families. For an upcoming parenting class starting soon, visit Heartmanity.com .