How to Respond to “Bad” Intentions

How to Respond to “Bad” Intentions

Responding to your child’s intentions rather than their actions can bring out their greatness in an instant.

When a child makes a mistake or accidentally damages something or hurts someone, recognizing the child’s true intention and pointing it out tells them that you understand the real them.

The relief they feel is instant, and knowing you are on their side allows them to apologize from the heart. You can see this demonstrated by the little boy who squirted my tee-shirt with red juice in the first chapter of my book, SAY WHAT YOU SEE®.

But what about when a child “intentionally” does something you don’t like such as throwing something or saying something mean to another child?

Even in angry moments where it looks like throwing or saying something mean IS the intention, it’s not. True intentions are never “bad.”

The true intention of the action is deeper and can often be found by asking yourself, “Why would a great child do that?” Your answer to this question and the way you respond to your child can help them understand their true motivation, which will help them take a different action next time that both of you like better.

Here are some suggestions from our Authorized Language of Listening® Coaches to help you get started:

Camilla Miller: Validation is key. As with a friend who acted out of character, the first step is to become curious about what is going on for your child and see their true greatness behind their actions.


If the child appeared angry when throwing something, SAY WHAT YOU SEE might be: “Wow! You’re angry! To throw something like that shows me just how angry you are!”


This tells the child that you know they’re not the kind of child who would randomly throw things. Something must have gotten in their way.


Then wait to see what the child does. If they go to pick it up, you can point out a STRENGTH and validate the intention: “You knew what to do to clean up. You didn’t actually want to throw that, you were just so upset.”


If they don’t try to pick it up, you can state your boundary: “I can see how angry you are, and breaking things is not okay.”


When all is calm you could help them find solutions to what they CAN DO when they’re angry to express how they feel AND keep everything and everyone safe. And practice.


With saying mean words to a friend you could follow the same process.


Camilla’s website: Keeping Your Cool Parenting (UK)

Ruxi Golea: For most of us, accidental throwing is more acceptable than throwing on purpose.


What SAY WHAT YOU SEE is teaching us as parents is to go beyond right or wrong because behind any behavior, there’s a valid and healthy need for power, experience or connection.


With that in mind, stay curious to understand why a behavior shows up; validate the need; and then if that behavior is outside your boundary (you are not okay with that behavior), you offer a CAN DO or brainstorm with the child for one.


In this situation the child might have felt powerless, so you could say, “You’re so upset, so mad that hitting or throwing is what helped you feel better,” and then you wait to see if your validation is what the child needed.


Assuming so, you can address the behavior, “It’s okay to feel mad and want to throw things, AND this is not for throwing/hitting. There must be something else you could be throwing/hitting that doesn’t break (or whatever your boundary is).” This is where the child feels understood and is now on the solutions side WITH you.


More about Ruxi here: Our Coaches (USA)

Rena Alexander: If a child does something you don’t like intentionally it shows us how much they want to communicate their feelings and how important it is for them to be heard and validated. Stating your boundary, what is acceptable and what is not, would be part of the first step.


SAY WHAT YOU SEE: “You broke the ‘thing’ and ‘things’ are not for breaking! You are very angry! You wanted to hit something, so I know how angry you are.”


CAN DO: “There must be something else you can hit to show me how angry you are without breaking anything.”


If they choose something else, and you are okay with their choice, offer a STRENGTH:


STRENGTH: “You choosing that over breaking things shows how quickly you can come up with a better solution.” (You could also say: “That shows good thinking skills/good decision making/you know exactly what would be much safer to hit, etc.)


The same approach can be used then to talk about what the child was angry about.


Rena’s FB page: Rena Rišianová – Parent Coach (Slovakia)

Rose Clark: In a previous post, Sandy describes how to respond to accidents by acknowledging the child’s intentions. But what about those times when the intentions seem “bad”?? How could you, why would you validate a bad intention??


Let’s take a look at the first premise of Language of Listening “All behavior is communication.” And truly, all behavior is an attempt to meet very real and legitimate needs. We are literally communicating needs all. the. time. However, that doesn’t make all behavior something you like or are okay with.


The first step we can take when we see behavior we don’t like is to remind ourselves to step back from thinking behavior is “good” or “bad” and focus instead on whether we “like” or “dislike” the behavior (that puts the ball in our court and removes blame and judgment so we can keep a clear and curious mind).


Next, when we see behavior we don’t like we can pause and ask ourselves this question “Why would a great kid do that??” Why would a great kid throw something?? Why would a great kid say something mean to another great kid?? And by doing this we start to uncover 1 of 3 hidden healthy needs: the Need for EXPERIENCE, the Need for CONNECTION, or the Need for POWER.


Let’s look at throwing something for example, right away if we look for the emotion behind it and what came before the item got thrown we’ll get some great clues. If it seemed emotion-less then we could assume it’s likely the Need for EXPERIENCE (I’ve got this body now what can I do with it). Experimenting, trying out new things, learning—this would go back to it being a mistake, really, so back to the original idea of intentions.


The next step could be coaching the child to find a CAN DO that will meet that need within your boundaries (for example, “nothing getting damaged”). You can learn more about coaching with CAN DO’s here. If there seemed to be anger or frustration behind it, I would likely deal with it in the same way I’d deal with the “saying something mean” situation, so let’s look at that one next.


I’m going to assume the saying something mean has anger behind it, and anger almost always rears up as the Need for POWER. Seeing that need presenting itself in a way you don’t like leads you, again, to coaching the child to find other ways to meet their need. Start with SAY WHAT YOU SEE to get on their side. This helps the child get to a place where they are ready to look for a solution using CAN DO’s. This is in line with another Language of Listening premise “All growth is through acceptance.”


Also important to note: when you see the Need for POWER it is always good to take a further step back and ask yourself—could this Need be showing up as a secondary Need to one that isn’t getting met?? That would likely be the Need for CONNECTION. It is common for us to turn to the Need for POWER when we can’t get our Need for CONNECTION met. A great example of this in children is sibling rivalry. If you suspect that the Need for CONNECTION is the primary need then offering up ways for that to get met is a great solution.


Here’s a real life example: I have a 5 year old who tends to get angry/frustrated. It usually shows up as hitting, scratching, or just plain throwing everything she can find onto the floor. If I suspect that the frustration actually due to needing CONNECTION rather than POWER, I simply sit on the floor to make myself fully available to her and open my arms. She almost always crawls up on my lap and calmly cries it out, getting her need for CONNECTION met. Other times, if she really needs to “get the mad out” I’ll model for her ways to do that within my boundaries (like hitting a pillow while shouting what she didn’t like, for example).


In the end, hunting out the intentions of the child is still the answer, we just augment it with a knowledge of the Needs and are ready with some CAN DO coaching strategies to get those needs met within our boundaries. Hope that helps 🙂


Rose’s FB Page: Love the Way You Parent (Canada)

More on finding true intentions:

Responding to Accidents and Complaints

Do-Overs to the Rescue

How do I get my child to stop name-calling?

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