Your Badly Behaved Child Is NOT A Bad Child

Share This Post

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on reddit
Share on email
I used to believe that my child was just being bad. I was convinced that he was a bad kid who just wanted to make our lives hell. But then I discovered some truth that totally transformed everything I thought, and most importantly, the way I reacted!

There are stories throughout history of people coming into the light of understanding. Call it transformation, if you will. These moments were life-altering for not only the person who experienced it, but those who were close to them as well. The Apostle Paul hated Christians and was actually responsible for killing many because he believed in an ideal, or a narrative playing out in his mind. And then he came face to face with the truth. He stepped into the light, and it transformed him.

About 5 years ago, I came into a clear understanding of what was really going on with some of my children. I had walked forever through the forest of misunderstanding at just what their past trauma had done to them. And then I reached the clearing. I finally understood that my child wasn’t a bad child, behaving badly, when he acted out, became aggressive, or was extremely anxious over, what seemed, nothing. And those frustrating moments where I knew I was being manipulated? Actually fueled by something bigger than my understanding. Here’s what I discovered:

  1. It’s the voice of trauma. There’s a narrative that plays in our children’s minds. It may say something like, “You won’t get enough food,” or “These people aren’t going to stick around. They’ll leave like everyone else,” or “You’re not really safe here,” or “You don’t belong. You have no identity.” Over and over and over. Even when they have been in your care or your family for years. That narrative plays in the recesses of a child’s mind continually, even if he can’t articulate it.
  2. It’s an unmet need being expressed. When I realized this several years ago…GAME CHANGER! This new realization changed how I reacted, how I approached my child in the first place and even how I handled the meltdowns and tantrums.  The behavior may seem bad but it’s really an expression of something else.
  3. It’s not about you. I used to feel like a terrible parent. but now I know my child is reacting from an unmet need. Your child’s reaction isn’t about you. It’s…not…about…you. I know it’s hard to not take it personally, but when you put your child back at the center of the story, you will be better equipped to meet your child’s needs and in turn change the behavior.

If this resonates with you, here are a few strategies that we suggest:

  1. Connection before correction. I used to snap and scream, “What’s wrong with you?” Or, “What’s your problem?” Those questions were useless and just fueled my child’s meltdown even further. I’ve since learned to ask, “How can I help you?” Or, “I see that you’re upset. Can you tell me what you are thinking or feeling?” Replacing “What’s wrong with you,” with “How can I help you?” builds a bridge…a connection. Taking the words ‘wrong’ or ‘problem’ out and replacing them with ‘thinking’ or ‘feeling’ communicates to your child that you are on his or her side. Connection before correction can drastically lower the temperature of the room.
  2. Redirect. In many situations, your child’s behavior is a hyper-focus on something that their brain is telling them they need, or want. For instance, you may have a child who is concerned about food. He may ask repeatedly when dinner is, or if he can have a snack. He may become really anxious and even belligerent. You can redirect by saying, “Hey buddy, it’s 4:15, and dinner is in 1 hour. So, if you look here on the clock, the big hand is on the 3, and the little hand is just past the 4. But it’s going to move all the way around and when the big hand gets to the 3 again and little hand is just past the 5, it’ll be dinner time. This does two things: 1) it redirects his focus away from the narrative in his mind, and 2) it is interactive. He can actually see how long it is until dinner.
  3. Calm and collected. You’ve got to maintain control of you. Stay calm and collected. Keep in mind what is playing out in your child’s mind. In a recent post, I talked about 3 big questions you can ask yourself to help you gain the right perspective on the situation. Read that post here.
  4. Gentle but firm. Remaining calm and collected doesn’t mean you become soft on the boundaries. You need to gently, at the right time, remind your child of the boundaries or the consequence for destroying things in the home.

Remember, your child’s brain was changed when he or she experienced trauma.  are parenting a child who, because of their past trauma, has an altered brain. When you’re wondering, “What are they thinking?” they may not even know the answer. They are grappling…grasping….fighting for something they may not be able to articulate.

A child who seems manipulative, conniving, disrespectful, disobedient, stubborn, sneaky or untruthful is reacting from his or her trauma just like the child who is sobbing, sad and grieving.

One more thing I want to add on to the strategy list.

  • Believe that your child has hope and a future…in-spite of what is happening right now. You simply cannot predict his or her future based on their present situation, or behavior. You just can’t. Everyone has hope…and everyone can change. Your kiddo is no exception to this.

Have hope, dear parent. You are not alone. Foster care is worth it. Adoption is worth it. Your child is worth it!

How have you handled these situations with your child? Share your story with us in the comment section below.

Share This Post

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on reddit
Share on email
Mike and Kristin Berry are the Co-Founders of The Honestly Adoption Company and have been parents for nearly two decades. They are the authors of six books, and the host of The Honestly Adoption Podcast.

Sarah Gray

Sarah Gray is the executive assistant to Mike and Kristin Berry. And she is the best in the land. In addition to providing a warm and friendly response to the many emails our company receives on a weekly basis, she also manages Mike and Kristin’s speaking and meeting schedules, and makes sure that team events go off without a hitch.

Nicole Goerges

Nicole Goerges is a Content Contributor & Special Consultant for The Honestly Adoption Company. She works with Mike and Kristin as a recurring co-host for the Honestly Adoption Podcast, and co-host of Kitchen Table Talks, exclusive video content for Oasis Community, along with Kristin. She is a fellow adoptive mom, and former foster parent.

Matt McCarrick

Matt McCarrick is the Content Production Specialist for The Honestly Adoption Company. If you’ve loved listening to our podcast, or enjoyed any of the videos trainings we’ve published, you have Matt to thank. He oversees all of our content production, from video edits, to making sure the tags are correct on YouTube, to uploading new videos to Oasis, to hitting publish on a podcast episode, he’s a content wonder!

Karen Anderson

Karen Anderson is the Community Engagement Specialist for The Honestly Adoption Company. She spends the bulk of her time interacting with, and helping, people through our various social media channels, as well as providing support for Oasis Community members through chat support or Zoom calls. In the same spirit as Beaver, Karen is also passionate about connecting with parents and making them feel loved and supported. Karen is also an FASD trainer and travels often, equipping and encouraging parents.

Beaver Trumble

Beaver Trumble is the Customer Care Specialist for The Honestly Adoption Company. Chances are, if you have been in need of technical support, or forgotten your password to one of our courses, you have interacted with Beaver. He is an absolute pro at customer care. In fact, he single-handedly revolutionized our customer care department last year. Beaver is passionate about connecting with parents and making them feel loved and encouraged.

Kristin Berry

Kristin Berry is the co-founder of, and Chief Content Specialist for, The Honestly Adoption Company. She spends most of her time researching and connecting with guests for our podcast, as well as direction, designing and publishing a lot of the content for our social media channels, blog and podcast. She loves to connect with fellow parents around the world, and share the message of hope with them.

Mike Berry

Mike Berry is the co-founder of, and Chief Marketing Specialist for, The Honestly Adoption Company. He spends the bulk of his time and energy designing and building many of the resources you see within our company, as well as social media and email campaigns. His goal is to use media as a means to encourage and equip parents around the world. He is also the co-host of The Honestly Adoption Podcast.