Why Can’t They Just Behave? Here’s Your Answer…


Infant CryingIt’s not an Oscar winning performance but it’s still quite a show. You’ve seen it (or been in it!). It features two characters. One is a screaming child, throwing a good, old-fashioned fit. The other is an embarrassed mom.

Though it can happen anywhere, the middle of the grocery store, in line at the post office, a restaurant, church…I’ve found the live public performance is much more exciting than anything you get to see at home.  The frazzled mom wants silence.  Yet no amount of coercing, threatening, or correcting will stop the tears.  She attempts a Hail Mary to make the noise (and stares) go away…a bribe.  But even promises of treats or TV shows bomb.

So what’s the trick to getting your children to stop throwing fits?

Or, to sit still when the social situation mandates it?

Or, to not pout when they don’t get their own way?

Ever wonder: Why can’t they just behave?

Two good reasons: 1) Because they aren’t little adults and yet, (2) they are just like us.

(If you are disappointed with that answer I encourage you to keep reading.)

You see, I’ve found that just changing my perspective can make a huge difference.

Now, please don’t misunderstand. I’m all for discipline and sometimes that is necessary.  But, I think a lot of our frustration, our cries of “why can’t they just behave,” aren’t really about behavior at all.   Often times, what we treat as a behavior issue is actually a normal emotional response.  Our children are sad, hurt, angry, scared, tired, or frustrated and our response is: Stop that. Don’t have {that reaction}You can’t feel that way! (Or, worse, “Don’t respond that way because it’s embarrassing me…”)

Just a year ago, my kiddo crew was all under age five.   I took all four to the grocery store regularly and, I’ll admit, we probably looked like we had just escaped from the circus.

But, what helped me make it through the whines and cries, (as well as the glares and “you’ve got your hands full” comments), was reminding myself that they are, indeed, just children.  Expecting them to stay still or quiet for too long was unrealistic.

My ability to deal with their grocery store performance changed dramatically once I was able to put myself in their little Stride Rites.  I am certain that I could not stay still (and quiet) in a grocery cart for an hour on a mission that was not my own.  In fact, forget the cart. I’ve been a part of many meetings where even a comfortable chair was not enough to keep me sitting silent and stationary for long.

And, that’s my second point.  Our children are not immune to emotional response.  They are just like us.  While I want them to respond “correctly” to the adversities they face, I still struggle to handle many of those same challenges well.   


For example, countless times each week I instruct my older children to “use their words.” I explain how difficult it is for mommy to meet their needs if they just fuss and cry.  I implore them to speak clearly as to what is wrong so that I can try to make the situation better.

Obvious, right? 

And, yet…sometimes, when I get mad, what do I do?  I clam up. I get so tight lipped that my husband couldn’t crack my mouth open with a crowbar yet alone get me to vocalize what it is I’m upset about.  Shouldn’t he just KNOW?

Maybe it would be easier for him to meet my needs if I would just use MY words.

The times when I don’t get my way…Ugh!  I’ll admit {with some embarrassment} I can act a wee bit childish when my recommendation gets rejected. What? We aren’t going to go the restaurant I chose for tonight? You aren’t making the improvements to the program that I suggested?

I may not physically throw myself on the floor.  But on the inside I turn-off.  Disconnect. Disengage.  In my head I’m screaming that if they would do it my way it would be so much better. I secretly plot ways in which I may not cooperate with their alternative plan.

Tantrum? {Guilty}

Things that cause major tears at our house like Lego projects that get destroyed or dolls that lose body parts are all somewhat trivial tribulations — to me.  I know most of these problems are fixable.  So, my first instinct is to be upset that they are over-reacting.  Stop crying over broken towers. We’ll rebuild!  We can always go buy another princess dress, just like the ripped one… 

Yet, when someone spills a strawberry smoothie on my carpet or when my husband accidentally throws away just one of my favorite earrings {hypothetically speaking}, I get a little emotional.  Though I intellectually understand the right cleaning products will help or I can buy some new earrings, I’m still upset that my stuff was damaged.

Or what about this one?  Does your child get upset when you leave places like the Chick fil-A playground or a friend’s house?  I’m certain no adult has that struggle.  Just please don’t ask my husband how I cried for the first 30 minutes of our drive home after two weeks at the beach last summer.

So, why can’t they just behave?  Well, maybe it’s because they’re human, just little people learning how to deal with many of the same things we big people deal with.  If we remember that they are just children, I think it frees us to respond to them with the love and acceptance they need to handle the tough stuff in life.

What do you think?




  1. Pretty sure almost all of your posts end up giving me chills. This is so true, and so encouraging and empowering if we remember this throughout the day. My boys always cry when bath time is over….and hello!! I hate getting out of a warm relaxing bath. It’s comprable to that moment when you hear the first whine signaling naptime is over!

  2. So true! I tell my husband this on a regular basis…”She’s just 4.” And I am constantly trying to remember what it was like to be in first grade. I guess we just do the best we can and try to put everything in perspective. Keep up the great work, Heather! Hope y’all are doing great!

  3. Heather, I love your perspective and you are so RIGHT ON!! Your humor and vulnerability make it easier for us moms to embrace our part in the power struggle.

    I see it all the time — kids mirror our “unfinished business”! It definitely takes courage to see challenges with our kids as opportunities for personal growth.

    You could say that having kids is the ultimate path to enlightenment :-). Thanks so much for sharing yours!



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