Every parent (or kidmin leader) deals with misbehavior on a regular basis. Misbehavior is a natural part of a child’s sin nature and the foolishness of the heart (Prov. 22:15). And dealing with it properly is an important part of the formation process of each child. We are called to protect and prepare a child’s heart for life.

However, there are multiple forms of misbehavior that indicate different needs of the child and varying responses from the adult. Here are four types of misbehavior and how to properly respond to each.

1. IGNORING

Have you ever asked or told a child to do something and they completely ignored you like you were invisible? Did it frustrate you?

Maybe you ask your son to take out the trash and he doesn’t even let out so much as a grunt to acknowledge you. Or you tell a student to sit down in class, and while they clearly hear you, they just as clearly ignore you.

When a child is given a directive and they intentionally choose not to respond to what is spoken, it could be that they are distracted or just don’t want to do it. However, more often than not, this is a power play. The child is smart enough to know what they are doing and is testing you and your reaction.

Proper Response: Repetition or Repercussion.

Depending on your relationship with the child, your calm and consistent response may be repetition (including making eye contact and receiving a response), repercussion (enforcing a consequence), or a combination of both as needed.  

2. COMPLYING

A child who complies with what they’re told is demonstrating obedience on some level. All throughout scripture, this is the #1 thing God requires of kids. This can either be obedience out of necessity (I know I have to and don’t want to get in trouble) or obedience out of honor (I choose to obey because I respect you). 

Little Johnny might take the trash out when he’s told, but if he rolls his eyes or does it with a grumbling spirit, even his compliance may still need additional guidance. 

Proper Response: Recognition or Redirection 

A polite response (a simple thank you) or at times recognition and praise for their obedience can go a long way with a compliant child. And if their compliance is done out of duty or frustration rather than respect, it gives a teachable opportunity of what you’d like to see differently next time for them to show both obedience and honor (the right action and the right attitude, see Matt. 15:8).

Bad kids who always get torn down and good kids who never get built up will often both mirror the same result—increased misbehavior. 

3. COMPLAINING

If you’ve had or worked with children for any amount of time, you know that this is often one of the most common misbehavior responses from kids… “But I don’t want to… That’s no fun… I don’t like that… But that’s not fair.”

It’s always easier for children to see and point out what they don’t like than to highlight what they do. Constant complaining is not only a misbehavior issue, but a heart issue. Complaining is sin. Just ask the Children of Israel from the Old Testament. But it still comes so easy (even for us adults).

Proper Response: Consistency and Accountability

Consistency and accountability with your expectations are two necessities for dealing with a complaining child. They need to know what the expectations are and be held accountable to them.

Set ground rules for how the child is to respond when instructions are given, when dinner is served, or when things don’t go the way he or she wants. Philippians 2:14 is a great verse to require a child to memorize and quote during times of training and correction. 

Also, because complaining is such a repetitive issue with most kids, it provides a rotating doorway to keep coming back to discussing the sin of their heart and their need for Jesus’ forgiveness and grace.

4. DEFYING

Sometimes a child straight up defies their parents or authority.

This might be a toddler who looks you in the eye and boldly says “NO!”, a child who flat out refuses to obey, or a teenager who says “yes”, but still intentionally chooses to disobedience behind your back.

Defiance is rooted in pride and a desire for control, and should never be tolerated. This is what happened to good and godly men like Eli and King David when their sons defied them and they continued to allow it. They were afraid to be the bad guy and their sons’ lives ended in ruin. (I Samuel 3:13 & I Kings 1:6, also Prov. 29:1 & 15)

Proper Response: Conversations and Consequences

Defiance is a clear heart issue that needs to be addressed with both conversations and consequences.

If they are too young to understand, consequences must simply be enforced consistently.

If they are older, in addition to consequences, asking your child why they felt the need to defy you or why they felt okay defying you gives great opportunity to peel back layers of what’s going on in their heart and for the deeper heart issues to be discussed.

Consistent consequences should be both explained and enforced so there is clear understanding for both child and parent about future expectations. 

Have your kids been misbehaving in any of these four ways lately? How could you improve your response to properly guide their heart toward Christ?

For more helpful parenting and ministry articles and resources go to www.godlyparent.com.