Parenting: Dealing with Child Behaviour, Child Motivation, and Negative Character Traits

This post is going to be a bit of a mishmash of ideas that are interrelated in some way. Every now and then I get these lines of thoughts that spiral out into different directions and I like to explore them. Writing helps me to do that and so here it is…

A week ago, Aristotle came home with his report card. It was good. I was pleased to see that he was developing nicely all round… except for two areas which I predicted. After my recent post about Aristotle’s Sports Day I’m pretty sure there are no surprises about which one of those areas was – PE. I have to say I was so impressed by the way his PE teacher worded it on his report card that I’m going to reiterate it. I can almost imagine what was really in his thought bubble when he was writing Aristotle’s report…

“…enthusiasm in PE is inconsistent. At times he displays a good range of developing fundamental skills and movement and at other times he looks for ways to escape the teacher’s attention and his work rate drops off.”

After reading this report, I wondered if my husband could be right – that my son isn’t quite as bad as PE as I feared and perhaps the problem has more to do with a lack of commitment rather than inability. Well, if that’s the case then at least we’ve identified the issue at hand. The question now is how to motivate him. Feel free to throw in any ideas you are aware of. Meanwhile, here’s one we stumbled upon…

One afternoon after I picked him up from Taekwondo, Aristotle was morosely depressed because he didn’t get to do the yellow belt test like everyone. Apparently, he needed a signed parental consent which I didn’t sign because I never received one. It turned out that I didn’t get one because he wasn’t ready for the test. I told him that if he wanted to take the yellow belt test, he would have to work harder next term but since he didn’t want to do Taekwondo next term, it was a moot point. Then he told me that he wanted to continue Taekwondo until he collected all he belts and then he would stop. “All the way to black belt?” I asked him and he replied, “Yes.”

The overly competitive nature of my son that I feared was a big stumbling block in his character development was actually turning out to have some positive value – helping him pursue areas that he might otherwise choose to ignore. Shakespeare was right:

“There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.”

Character flaws that we perceive in our children can be a positive given the right situation. For instance, Aristotle who is so sensitive that he wails over the tiniest thing is sympathetic and understanding when facing the pain of others because he identifies with their pain. Hercules who rarely cries about anything and gets over stumbles quickly, tends to find the pain of others to be a source of amusement. However, since he gets back on the horse easily, he has the ability to keep trying and trying even after numerous failures.

The characteristics of our children can be both good or bad. You can look at them negatively and try to beat it out of your child; or you can accept them as they are and help them to utilise the positive aspect of that trait.

My greatest concern about Aristotle’s competitive streak was that he tends to be rather a sore loser when the game doesn’t go his way. Interestingly, when I expressed this concern to his teacher, she reported that he was quite capable of good sportsmanship at school. So it looks like he’s a sore loser at home – where he feels free to express what he really feels – but he has learned the socially acceptable behaviour at school when it comes to losing gracefully. And isn’t that what life’s about? You don’t have to like what it dishes out to you, but you do have to learn how to behave appropriately when it sends the lemons your way.

Since this post is all over the place, I thought I would conclude with the lines of thought that came out of it…

  1. If your child is doing poorly in a subject at school, it is important to identify the crux of the problem so that you can deal with it appropriately. In this case, if I had gone with my original belief that Aristotle did poorly at PE because he was just bad at it, the answer would simply be to give him more opportunities to practice. Since the real issue is a lack of motivation, throwing more practice his way would not have helped. He would just have resented it.
  2. The motivation for each child is different. What works for one child doesn’t necessarily work for another. Since you know your child best, you are the best person to figure out what works. Reading ideas and suggestions from others are a way to start, but at the end of the day, you have to decide what you’re going to follow and what you will discard because it isn’t relevant to your child.
  3. Accept your child for who he is. Everyone has good and bad qualities. If you look hard enough, you will see how a “negative trait” may have a positive aspect to it. Find it and nurture it.
  4. There will be negative characteristics that we will wish our children didn’t have, such as a short temper. It is not for us to tell them to “get over it already” and squash that temper but to help them find tools to deal with these negative behaviours. If your child gets angry easily, teach him techniques he can employ to channel that anger so it doesn’t affect others.


Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of (a website on parenting, education, child development) and (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

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