It’s Not about the Butt

   images  I had a coaching session today with a mom of a strong-willed five-year-old and she was growing weary of the seemingly constant negative interaction with her son. “He’s sassy. He hits. He doesn’t obey. He runs away from me. He makes farting noises in time out. He climbs under the table at meals. He shakes his butt in my face and laughs.”

            I laughed. She didn’t.

            I laughed because everything she described was so typical of many five-year-old boys. And the continuation of the behavior even after punishments and consequences and lectures was so typical of strong-willed ones. It seems that her friends who recommended more punishments were unfamiliar with the God-designed model of a child commonly referred to as “Strong-Willed.” These are kids who are high energy, intense, and singularly focused on doing exactly what they want to do, when they want to, exactly how they want to. AND they have strong opinions about everything. Everything.

            What this little guy was making sure his mom knew was that she was NOT the boss of him. And he’s right. This mom is in charge of the home and herself. God has given her authority over her child but not power over him. The child is in charge of his own behavior. The annoying behavior will stop as soon as the child decides to stop.

            I asked her how she usually handled these types of situations, and she said that she corrected him and if he didn’t stop she would put him in time out which often began a pattern of even more defiant behaviors. Calm, strategic spankings had also resulted in an escalation of poor behavior rather than a change.

So now what?

This child doesn’t need more time-outs or punishments. In fact, I recommend taking these tools out of the parenting toolboxes altogether, because sometimes it’s exactly what the strong-willed child wants—to get us all worked up. To push our buttons and see what happens. When interacting with a strong-willed child, there are much more effective tools. 

  1. The Indifference Tool–The strong-willed child knows all of our “hot buttons” and knows them well. Even more, he knows exactly how to push them to get a strong reaction. The stronger the reaction he gets, the more he is going to push.  It’s like a game. If push equals big reaction, then that will equal more pushing. It becomes fun. If push = no reaction, then that will equal no more pushing (or much less pushing–after all, we are dealing with a strong-willed child). We have to learn to be indifferent, unfazed, and as calm and cool as a cucumber by their negative behaviors—disarming the hot button. Instead of punishing or getting angry or having a big, strong reaction, we can just simply say: “It’s not appropriate to put your bottom in someone’s face.” And walk away. 
  1. The Laughter Tool–Better yet, what if we laughed about the bottom in our faces? What if we picked him up and hugged him and flew him around the room and said: ‘You silly guy. It’s not polite to put your tushy in someone’s face. Now, let’s get those pajamas on.” What if we replaced our hot button’s normal reaction of anger and annoyance with laughter and silliness?  Because trust me, if you have a strong-willed child, sometimes all you can do is laugh. 
  1. The Connection Tool–Better yet, what if after we flew him up to his room and got his pajamas on, we even read him a book or had a tickle fight with him? I know, I know…why would we give him so much attention for putting his butt in our face? Because what he’s really trying to communicate is:  “I love you and so desperately want your attention, and I’m going to get it the only way I know how.” He also might think, “What are you going to do now? Can you stop me?” The bottom line is: Kids want, need, and crave our attention even if it’s negative. That’s why we have to give more of our energy to positive behaviors and less of our energy to negative ones. Every single day we need to connect with our kids in positive ways–play games, read books, do a puzzle, put together LEGOS, go on a nature walk, snuggle with them, etc., and look at their negative behaviors as a cry for attention. When more of our energy is poured into connecting, less of our energy will be drained by correcting. 
  1. The Teaching Tool--Even though correcting is draining, it’s a big part of our job. And if our strong-willed child keeps putting his butt in our face, he doesn’t need more punishment. He needs our attention and our teaching. This is where we focus on what character traits we need to be teaching–definitely Modesty and Respect.  Instead of a time-out, we can share the importance of respecting other people’s personal space. Instead of spanking, we can educate on the importance of modesty. It’s so important to keep our big goal in mind: to raise kind, loving, respectful and responsible adults. It takes time. We have to look at parenting for the long haul. We can’t just teach them something once and expect them to get it. No. It’s on-going, every day, 24/7, never-ending –patiently teaching and training our kids over and over and over and over—as long as it takes. (As a side note—butt shaking IS one of those behaviors that simply disappears with maturity. Just like throwing mulch. Biting. Throwing food. Splashing water out of the tub. Running in the library. Nose picking in public. Walking up the slide.)

         Notice that for each of these tools, the parent does not demand or insist that the behavior stop. The parent does not try to strong-arm the child into submission. Rather the parent minimizes the negative attention, maximizes the positive attention, and clearly teaches what the right thing to do is. So the next time your child puts his butt in your face, remember it’s not about the butt at all. It’s about laughing together, staying connected, teaching character, and actually enjoying the journey of raising an adult. It will stop. Promise.

It’s Not about the Butt: How to Help Your Preschooler Stop Shaking His Butt in Your Face (and other annoying behaviors)

Special thanks to Christine Leeb for her insight and contribution to this blog.






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