Mistaken Behavior

Question: I am writing a paper on the difference and how to use guidance to distinguish and facilitate them.

Could you please tell me the difference between mistaken behavior and misbehavior?


Answer: I love this question because I love spreading the word about this concept.

All experiences count for children, and that includes every interaction parents and caregivers have with them. If every child is entitled to having the finest experiences, then every parent and caregiver should know how to provide them.

There are two totally different ways to react to the same child behavior when it comes to each of these concepts. In addition, there is one correct way to begin either reaction.

Correct Beginning

You must first “separate the behavior from the child. Just think about the behavior that happened as being totally separate from the child who did it. Then treat it totally as an entity on its own.

This separation does something very important for you right then and there. It gives you a positive attitude that will protect your child. Then whatever turns out to be the case, mistaken or misbehavior, your message will be helpful and not hurtful to your child. “You do not like what happened, but you love your child.”

Next you will find yourself in a much better position to evaluate fairly what happened and follow that with your reaction for a mistake or for misbehavior.  


Child Behavior: Nathan pushed Meghan.

Reaction for a Mistake

Maybe Meghan was in Nathan’s way for some reason, and he could not figure out for the moment the right way to get her to move or to go around her. Then you can nicely and respectfully teach Nathan how not to make the same mistake again, the exact goal of all behavior problem solving.

Reaction for Misbehavior

Maybe Nathan pushes all the time, and this is one more example of his repeated problem. Then you can now from a loving point of view teach Nathan alternative actions for when he gets angry, frustrated or feels mistreated. When you in your own mind isolate out behavior from the whole child, you reduce your anger about the situation and keep separate and protected your love for the child. In that way you increase your ability to focus on the problem and can more easily accomplish the real goal of teaching the child how not to make the same mistake again.

Now you see why I love this question. I hope you will enjoy this answer … and spread the word!

Dr. Sally


  1. Hi Dr. Sally,

    I value your answer because the parent doesn’t jump to negative conclusions and lose her temper. You look for a positive reason for the child’s negative behavior. Doing so protects the parent from acting rashly and protects the child from being misunderstood and yelled at.
    Depending on the age of the child, I suggest role-playing with the child on how to act better. Complimenting the child helps too.

  2. Hi Jean,
    Your comment is very special to me because you give excellent advice on your parenting website KidsDiscuss.com. A parent is a child’s first and most important teacher. Mom and Dad are also the people that give basic love to their child. The family is a very important unit. All members of it must have good ways to stick together and support each other. This method is one of those ways.

    • You are so right, Dr. Sally. Children attach to their parents from the moment they are born. How parents treat their babies, toddlers and young children affects how they feel about themselves. When children are resented or neglected, it can cause major negative effects. But when parents are loving, patient, and understanding, youngsters thrive. This is why families are so important.

  3. sally

    Hi Jean,
    I love the way you just said that. I am going to pass on all this to my special aunt, who is now 93. She talks a lot about how she thought she was resented and somewhat neglected right from the start and the major effects it had on her for her whole life. One of my students yesterday in my “Mind Body Spirit Connection” class told me the same thing about how she feels today. I teach my “Birth to Three” bonding and attachment class just for that reason.

    • Dr. Sally you just showed that when a person reaches old age and still feels like they were never accepted, their early childhood is still affecting them. To me, that means they probably lived a lifetime thinking negative thoughts. Such thoughts probably held them back from living happier lives because their negativity caused others to withdraw from them. But when folks are happy, positive, and encouraging they attract friends. Who doesn’t want to be around positive people?

      As parents, let’s be loving and positive with our babies, toddlers, and children. We have the power to turn kids into happy people.

  4. Hi Jean,
    What a wonderful message! Thank you very much for putting all of this together in such a nice way.
    See tip “Universal Parent Education” Has Just Begun! about a brand new program.
    We say here on “Parenting with Dr. Sally,”Every child is entitled to have the finest experiences, and every parent should know how to provide them.” Being “loving and positive” is the absolute best advice. It may sound simple, but in reality it is not easy. There are a lot of “tricks of the trade” to make it happen.

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