Four Goals of Misbehavior
Why do children misbehave? Why the hitting, sulking, and angry
outbursts? "All behavior occurs for a social purpose."
Don Dinkmeyer, Ph.D; Gary McKay, Ph.D., Parents Handbook,
p. 8. Jenny, age four and her mother, Nancy, were shopping at the
mall. Nancy spied a highschool chum. "Oh, Sandy, it's so good to
see you! This is Jenny, my four-year-old...Jenny, where are you?
Are you hiding behind my skirts again? You don't have to hide. This
is my highschool friend, Sandy. I don't know why Jenny is so shy."
There are many theories about misbehavior--heredity, environment,
"ages, stages," etc. Children "do not believe they can belong in
useful ways." Rudolph Deikurs identifies four goals for misbehavior:
Attention, Power, Revenge, and Display of inadequacy. Ibid.
Attention: You can discover the child's goal by observing
your reaction. Train yourself to look at the results of misbehavior
rather than just the misbehavior. Jenny's unconscious strategy was:
"I can be center stage by being shy." Many children believe "that
they can belong only if they are receiving attention (and) prefer
negative attention to being ignored." So, change your "responses
to show them that they can achieve significance through useful contributions."
We can "either ignore misbehavior or pay attention to it in ways
they don't expect." Children should not be given attention on demand.
The appropriate way is to give attention "when it is not expected."
Ibid. p. 9. Our goal is to stop reinforcing misbehavior.
Power: Children who are seeking power believe that they
are important when they are boss. They do their own thing and say
by their behavior: "You can't force me to do anything." or "You'd
better do what I want or I'll make a big scene." Of course, parents
can subdue children. You may win the argument, but you may lose
the relationship. Anger is a natural parental response to a child's
defiance. Correcting a child when you are angry only makes matters
worse. Children may "continue the unacceptable behavior or stop
temporarily." Ibid. p. 10. In a power struggle children
often do what they are told, but in their own way. This is known
as "defiant compliance." "To manifest passion toward an erring child
is to increase the evil. It arouses the worst passions of the child
and leads him to feel that you do not care for him." Child Guidance,
p. 245. So disentangle yourself from the power struggle. "Using
power tactics to counter children's bids for power only impresses
them with the value of power and increases their desire for it."Dinkmeyer,
Op cit., p. 10.
Revenge: Children who try to get revenge usually believe
that they are not of value. So their way to importance is to hurt
someone. "They find a place by being cruel." This kind of behavior
comes from discouragement so the best approach is not to retaliate.
The challenge is to improve your relationship with children. Be
calm, loving, firm, but kind.
Display of inadequacy: Children who often plead inadequacy
are usually discouraged. They have given up. To keep others from
expecting anything they say (to themselves), "I can't do it, so
why should I try?" "To help a child who feels inadequate, parents
must eliminate all criticism, and focus, instead, on the child's
assets and strengths. The parents must encourage any effort to improve,
no matter how small it seems." Ibid. p. 10. The secret
is to concentrate on your own behavior if you wish your children
to change theirs.
Build positive relationships: Parents should remember that
respect from children is earned. Nagging, yelling, hitting, talking
down, or following a double standard-- shows lack of respect. We
will get respect, when we demonstrate respect.
Spend some time each day with each child--doing what you both
enjoy. Each child should know that he or she will have his special
time with you.
Children need frequent encouragement. Catch your child being good
and then affirm him/her. Show your love by words and actions. Tell
your children that you love them when they are not expecting such
a comment. Non-verbal signs are especially important: pats, hugs,
kisses, and tasseling hair are vital. One highschool girl said to
her counselor: "No body hugs me any more." "Above all things else,
let parents surround their children with an atmosphere of cheerfulness,
courtesy, and love. A home where love dwells, and where it is expressed
in looks, in words, and in acts, is a place where the angels delight
to manifest their presence." Child Guidance, p. 146.
--Some of the above material is adapted from Dinkmeyer and McKay.