Upside behaviors in children like being clever, innovative, inventive, and smart often startwith downside behaviors like being sneaky, manipulative, and disobedient.
The good news is that the downside behaviors are seeds that can grow into the upside behaviors. Children’s brains work overtime to figure things out. They search for how they can get their needs (or wants) met – even if those needs are unsafe or unreasonable according to adults. They are all the time trying to figure out what the limits are – what they can and cannot do or can or cannot have. If they can’t do or have one thing, what can they do or have instead?
They try different ways of getting what they want – some good and some not-so-good. They find what works best through trial and error. And yes, they trip up and make missteps, but adults can show them how to keep moving in the right direction toward the upside behaviors. Hopefully, knowing that not-so-good, downside behaviors are opportunities to teach children upside behaviors, can help parents to stay calm and in control as they teach their children that sneaking or manipulating or disobeying doesn’t pay off, but other behaviors like cleverness will.
For example, parents can help children think about what would make someone agree to share a toy instead of sneaking the toy away from a playmate. Parents could encourage children to think of win-win solutions. What else would a friend like as a snack so you can have the last cookie? Once children start thinking these ways, the next thing you know, they are more smart than sneaky and more clever than manipulative. Who knows, your little cookie thief may end up using his or her cleverness and imagination as a renowned lawyer or famous architect one day.