FEvery action has a motivation, and without motivation there is no action. People who feels good about themselves and about life aren’t going to go around whacking people upside the head, calling names, or threatening people on the street. Someone who is doing those things doesn’t feel good inside. Bullies are some of the most miserable people.
Saying “People who feel bad act bad,” and the counterpoint, “People who feel good act good,” is simply a statement of fact – it’s not an excuse. In other words, I don’t look at my child hitting another child and say to the parent of the other child, “Oh, it’s okay, it’s because he’s feeling bad that he’s acting bad.”
Rather, this goes hand in hand with the idea of assuming a positive intent. No one wants to be a bully. No one enjoys beating people up or calling people names. These are expressions of internal pain. So rather than labeling a child “bad” or “mean” or “bratty,” I believe that children want to feel good inside and get along with people outside of themselves.
So, when I respond to a situation where a child is being uncooperative or aggressive, I don’t start with addressing the behavior (although if someone is being hurt, I will start by putting a stop to that). Instead, I start with the heart; I talk to them, reflect feelings, and listen, and keep doing this until I understand what is causing this child to feel bad. Almost consistently, the poor behavior becomes irrelevant as the child begins to feel better.
I do also teach about expected behavior regardless of feelings. Feeling bad is not an excuse for hitting a sibling; it doesn’t make noncooperation acceptable. And, as my children mature, I expect the appropriate behavior regardless of the feelings. At the same time, I’m teaching them how to appropriately express their feelings and come to me with their needs, so that they won’t have so many feelings that they are expressing immaturely.
At two, I expect them to hit when they are frustrated. At four, I hope there are some times when they don’t hit but maybe say, “OOOOOH I’m so frustrated! I want to hit you!” By six, there are more times where they respond graciously and even begin pointing out the bad feelings that motivated the other child’s behavior.
I know this is a true principle because it applies to adults too. When I’m grumpy it’s hardest for me to behave well. This is why we do things like get alone time or take a break. And the same things that are successful for us can be successful for children – and what better time to teach them? This is the reason for implementing things like the Comfort Corner, and ideas like drawing pictures, doing emotional dances, or even pounding pillows instead of people.
Saying, “People who feel bad act bad” isn’t the same as saying, “It’s okay for people to act bad because they obviously feel bad.” Please don’t think this is an excuse for poor behavior. Rather, it’s a principle that helps us understand someone who is misbehaving and assign a positive intent so that we can respond to them the way Jesus would, instead of the way that our flesh wants (especially if their behavior causes us to feel bad and want to act bad).