Immature Behavior

Overview
   Immature Behavior
   Background
   Assumptions
   Personal Thoughts
   How to Change

Parenting Responses:
   Defensive
   Offensive
   Absent
   Present
Parenting, we're learning, boils down to assisting our child in the maturity process (aka brain development).

Webster's definition for "immature" = lacking complete growth or development, or having the potential capacity to attain a definitive state. The opposite, "maturity" = having attained a final or desired state (the state we sometimes wish our children came in...but they don't).

Actions our bodies make are controlled by "wired" synaptic connections in our brains. Therefore, childish, unruly, or perceived misbehavior that children (or adults) engage in (like tantrums, teasing, tattling, nose-picking, etc.) is basically the brain acting in an immaturely-wired, or incomplete state.  

So, when our children push our buttons or display embarrassing behavior, they are not bad. They are simply immature...with lots of potential. A child's brain is wiring for the "first time" during childhood and adolescence, but can also be "rewired" throughout an entire lifespan.

As we begin to detect immaturity, or incomplete wiring in our growing children (what many refer to as "bad" behavior), it is helpful to keep a long-term perspective. The brain growth they have accomplished is something to celebrate (in order to tease, our brains have to first learn how to talk and/or move) and the growth yet to be is also something to celebrate...especially when it's coupled with the personal maturity a parent gains when striving diligently to unlock a child's potential. Passing through enormous amounts of immaturity is part of the journey to a more desirable condition for both child and parent.

Misjudging a child's behavior is perhaps one of the most common and potentially the most damaging immature adult behavior. Present Parenting can help with that. In fact, we think parenting is much more about raising parents than it is about raising children. In other words, our children can truly help us reach our  potential if we let them. 

Two Kinds of Immature Behavior
Volumes have been and could still be written to explain behavior.

But for the purposes of this site, we will categorize basic childish behaviors that drive parents bonkers into two categories: 
        Level 1 -- Natural Age Ignorance (NAI): mistakes made due to a lack of knowledge of how a social group handles various circumstances, and/or particularly in young children or special needs children, behavioral mistakes made due to lack of sufficient brain development. For example, the combination of having an underdeveloped prefrontal cortex alongside an excited exploratory system, a newly intense emotional response system, and highly active mirror neurons that absorb and must “digest” energy makes for some highly volatile days with a 2-year-old and it's virtually impossible to magically create instant brain growth to avoid repetitive meltdowns during this period. 
        Level 2 -- Natural Defense Immaturity (NDI): bothersome behaviors that are a reaction after the child encounters a personal threat. These behaviors often become developed coping patterns meant to protect a child from or sooth a child after repetitive potential or real stress. Some examples of threats include recognizing personal limitations or interacting with other immature folks like siblings, peers, or even parents and teachers who may be out of balance or unaware of the child's needs.

**A primary goal of Present Parenting is to mindfully accept Level 1 immature behavior in such a way that we help our children avoid excessive escalation to Level 2 immature behavior. 

In general, 
we can offer immediate age-appropriate correction after a Level 1 Ignorant misbehavior because the child's brain is relatively "open" to accepting correction in those moments.

However, Level 2 Defensive misbehavior is difficult to correct in the moment because it is self-defensive by nature and if feels like "walls" are blocking brain progress. In these cases, we typically revert to Attachment Stage practices to address the underlying stress and follow up with age-appropriate correction and reflection later. 


Here's why:

Level 1--Natural Age Ignorance (NAI)
Natural Age Immaturity exists because a child is a child. Learning doesn't come all at once because brain wiring is a physical process that takes time and focused attention. While on that learning journey, a child is almost always "in the middle" of the wiring process that accompanies learning new tasks. Therefore, we can have confidence that a child will outgrow most Natural Age Ignorance (like sleep issues, tantrums, defiance, etc) if we are patient and provide an example to follow. The child's brain just needs to develop some more to balance out the brain areas where the immature behavior is dominant. This takes time. Cells need to develop, make connections, and myelinate, while unused cells prune away, and then more connections need to be made.

To assist our child with Natural Age Ignorance, we practice patience, empathy, and love and schedule more playtime alongside our child. Following our proper example will slowly teach our child what to do in place of the immature behavior. We find that showing is almost always more effective than telling. If we are practicing a present response, we can wisely discern how to manage our child’s ignorance or NAI. We may choose to ignore the behavior (though we remain very in tune to the child), model proper behavior, or correct the behavior. It will be different for different situations and for different children.

While assisting children with immature behavior is more of a mindset than a tactical list of things to do, taking a peak at our Accountability Pyramid may help you get a glimpse of how we personally implement the present response with our children as they grow through the stages of life and in and out of lots of immature behaviors. The pyramid shows how we gradually shift accountability for their immature behavior. Accountability starts completely on our shoulders and slowly shifts to their shoulders in a mindful way for each unique child. This process of helping our children grow and mature puts us in a position to grow and mature right alongside them.


Level 2 - Natural Defense Immaturity (NDI)
Natural Defense Immaturity is basically an "out of control" or seemingly inappropriate way of re-balancing after encountering stress. NDI behaviors may look similar to NAI, but there are some key differences. Both NAI and NDI can include tantrums, teasing, sleep disturbances, potty training relapses, defiance, lack of responsibility, verbal abuse, etc. All of these behaviors are age-appropriate at some point in a child's life. However, the short way of describing the difference between them is that NAI feels "innocent" or "ignorant" while NDI feels defensive, attention getting, or button-pushing and involves reacting to repeated stress. Repeated episodes of the same NDI can develop into patterns that make it feel like the child is abnormally "stuck" in a past stage of development due to unresolved conflicts. It takes practice to discern between the two types of immature behavior. If we are in tune to our child, we can typically sense the difference.

We should point out that a defensive parent often misjudges a child's NAI for NDI, so be on the lookout for that trap. When this misjudging occurs, parents feel manipulated by the child and thus "react" inappropriately, which typically causes a child's NAI to then escalate to NDI because the child rightfully and quite automatically will defend himself from the parent's immature response. Fixing this common parenting mistake involves repairing the parent more so than repairing the child. We're pretty familiar with this process. ;) Some thoughts on a personal transformation HERE.

The reason we like to avoid excessive escalation from NAI to NDI, is because unlike NAI, NDI does not always improve with time. NDI behaviors usually get worse, or change into a bigger problem, addiction, etc. as the child grows. NDI is intended to somewhat "protect" a child from stress while he is young (hence short-term behavioral relief is often detected), but because fear is involved in the body’s natural defense system against stress, repeated patterns of NDI can block proper use of the child’s developing prefrontal cortex, which prevents a child from reaching his full maturity later. NDI problems feel like a "wall" is going up between the child and us.

To overcome NDI, one must use the prefrontal cortex, which isn't very consistently  "online" until the mid-20s or 30s. So children can (1) “borrow” someone else’s highly-functioning prefrontal cortex by mirroring proper emotional regulation during moments of distress, (2) mimic someone else's reactive nature and thus become more reactive too, or (3) continue coping on their own using other areas of their brains that are well-developed, which can turn a big strength into an out-of-control weakness. Obviously the first choice is ideal. To develop a strong prefrontal cortex that will successfully sort out the body’s many natural healthy alarms and eliminate NDIs in the long run, scientists are discovering that the human brain needs genuine focused attention from in-tune, compassionate, and empathetic caregivers. Love conquers fear. The most influential relationship in this process comes from the child's primary caregivers...typically the parents.

When we detect NDI behaviors (coping behaviors), we are less likely to offer correction to the child for the misbehavior on the surface (like hitting or carelessness) in the moment because the child's brain is in "wall" mode. Instead, we typically revert to Attachment Stage practices where we carry most of the "weight" of the moment and then work to assess what underlying stress might be in need of attention.

We are careful to not be the cause of stress (and especially not fear) by using destructive discipline (Defensive, Offensive, or Absent Parenting responses when our child is acting immature) or by implementing the Present Parenting Pyramid out of order. We do not give consequences to our children for showing emotion or for being immature. If we are in a Present Parenting mindset, we can accept the child’s current ability to manage stress, give sincere empathy for the stress our child is experiencing and then lead in finding a solution to the situation or repairing damage that may have happened because of the child’s NDI. The process of accountability or repair looks different depending on the child's mental age.

Because NDI develops due to stress in a child's life and stress is a part of living in this world, developing some NDI is unavoidable. In a Present Parenting mindset, we can observe NDI behaviors without feeling guilty, worried, frustrated, angry, or fearful while at the same time seek to help our children overcome them by assisting them in developing a more balanced brain. Obviously every parent/child combo will have millions of ups and downs with NDI...this is very normal. Practicing Present Parenting to combat NDI means recognizing and accepting NDI and confidently moving forward...together.


Immaturity Equation

In general, we try to remember this simple equation when we notice that our children are acting immature:

Level 1 Immaturity (any childish NAI behavior) + Immaturity (a reactive level 1 NAI or 2 NDI response from peers or unfortunately many adults) = Level 2 Immaturity (NDI coping pattern...like playing emotional ping-pong with negative energy bouncing back and forth) + Underdevelopment (in child and adult alike)

But...
Level 1 Immaturity (any childish NAI behavior) + Maturity (Present Response from an attuned adult) = More Maturity (the negative energy is absorbed and transformed into positive energy by the more mature person and then shared with the child) + Growth and Progress (in child and adult alike )