At times when visiting classrooms, I encounter situations where I struggle to find a term that appropriately describes the situations observed. Recently, while speaking with a colleague, I heard a phrase and felt a connection to it. In his book, The Power of Guidance, Dan Gartrell uses the phrase Misbehavior or Mistaken Behavior. To some the terms are synonymous, but to me the differences are powerful.
When we think of a child’s actions as misbehavior, we associate intentionality with the actions. Once we make the assumption that the behavior is intentional, then the belief that punishment is appropriate quickly follows.
If we instead view the child’s actions as mistaken behaviors, then it allows for the view that a mistake was made and an opportunity to teach or guide the child exists. If you have read my previous posts, you may recall me drawing a parallel between academic skills and behavioral skills. I cannot imagine any professional educator chastising a young child for occasionally forgetting the rules of capitalization. Instead, the teacher would see a mistake in capitalization as a sign that she needs to go back and review/reteach that specific capitalization rule. The same should hold true with behaviors. If a child engages in a mistaken behavior, then guidance rather than punishment is needed.
As a child, I recall when I would make a mistake, the typical question my mother would ask was, “Did you do it on purpose?” When I would say it was a mistake, she would tell me that everyone makes mistakes and we just need to fix it. That message has stayed with me and I try hard to remember it when I encounter a child who has engaged in mistaken behaviors.