Why Do They Do It?
Are there any parents who have not wrung their hands, pulled out their hair, and exclaimed, “What makes my child behave like this?”. Rudolf Driekurs, a noted psychiatrist and child theorist had an answer to that question. He suggested that children, based upon misconceptions they have about themselves, behave in specific ways to obtain specific results. Children, being smarter than adults, usually achieve their goals. We give them just what they want, reinforcing and perpetuating the very behavior we think we are getting rid of. With Driekurs’ help, parents can recognize a child’s goals and deal more productively with the misbehavior.
When a child nags, interrupts or demands things or assistance, his goal is attention. He is expressing his belief that he belongs only when he is being noticed or “helped”. An automatic parental response is to get angry and scold or to maintain peace by giving in. Instead of this response which reinforces and encourages the misbehavior, ignore the inappropriate behavior and make sure that you make a positive effort to look for and praise behavior which is pleasant and useful. If you find it is difficult not to respond, go in the bathroom and shut the door until they go away!
In an effort to gain power a child may talk back, disagree, or argue especially in embarrassingly public places where she feels certain of winning. This behavior expresses the belief that she is valuable only when in control or proving that no one can boss her. This challenge to our parental authority makes arguing back or exerting our power the most natural response. It also accommodates the child’s desire for a power-showdown. A parent must firmly and calmly state the rule and remain in control of themselves and the situation. Helping the child to find and verbalize other options for solving the problem and then allowing her to choose from the solutions provides a face-saving alternative.
A child exhibits a desire for revenge of real or imagined hurts when he is physically aggressive towards other children and their possessions. He is expressing a belief that he is unlovable or that he belongs only when he is hurting others as he feels he has been hurt. He seems to beg for punishment, pushing until the parent gives in and uses force. It is important to avoid retaliating with force because it validates his view that hurting gives power. A reminder that “I won’t let anyone hurt you and I won’t let you hurt anyone else.” may be effective. An effort, no matter how difficult, should be made to find lovable traits in the child and to focus on them in unconflicted moments.
The child who gives up, cries, and refuses to try is expressing the belief that she is worthless and unlovable and can belong only when others feel sorry for her. She wants validation of her incompetence, agreement that she is worthless and that nothing should be expected of her. This is an exasperating situation and parents often resort to ridicule and shaming in an effort to get the child to be more responsible and thereby unintentionally reinforce more of the same kind of behavior. Try instead to recognize and praise one or two things that the child does do well. Set up situations where the child is motivated to achieve. “You may watch TV when your socks are on.” No discussion. No help, scolding, or pleading, just a situation where nothing else happens until the child achieves.
When looked at from Driekurs’ perspective, a child’s misbehavior becomes more understandable and manageable. Parents can look at it objectively and not as a personal attack. Relax! You now have a plan for positive action.