What every child wants…
Misbehavior and belonging
Studies indicate that children today are harder to teach and more difficult to discipline than in previous years. Diagnoses of ADHD, anxiety and depression are skyrocketing. What is a parent or educator to do? How can we cope?
Before identifying some approaches to the problem, Katherine Reynolds Lewis, the author of the book, The Good News about Bad Behavior, suggests that we first reconsider and re-frame our understanding of misbehavior. The first order of business should be to eliminate any physical reasons for misbehavior. If a child is hungry, tired, sick or experiencing physical discomfort then those needs must first be addressed.
Next, Lewis refers to Alfred Adler’s theory of misbehavior. He believed that people are driven by a need for purpose and to achieve goals. He also recognized the social need to belong and theorized that when children misbehave, there are one of four reasons behind the misbehavior. Each type of misbehavior is characterized by specific feelings on the part of the adult.
When a child misbehaves by interrupting and persistently demanding that you watch him perform, do you feel annoyed and pay attention to him? Then the goal of the misbehavior is to gain attention.
When a child misbehaves by refusing to get up and get dressed for school, do you feel angry and mobilized? Then the goal of the misbehavior is to gain power.
When a child misbehaves by hitting a sibling or taking a toy from a friend, do you feel frightened or threatened for their safety? Then the goal of the misbehavior is revenge.
When a child misbehaves by giving up and not trying to complete their homework, do you feel despair and anxious? Then the goal of the misbehavior is displaying feelings of inadequacy.
Why is it important to understand the goal behind the misbehavior?
The first reason is so that you can observe and mediate your own feelings. Addressing misbehavior when we are feeling angry ourselves or worried and anxious can result in taking action that is counter productive to correcting the behavior.
The second reason is that when we view behavior as an opportunity to learn better and more successful behavior, we set the stage for a child to be motivated to improve and to develop independent critical thinking skills that will direct them in future circumstances. This is something that punishment for bad behavior and rewards or bribes for good behavior does not do. When we take the time to teach better behavior techniques which may include teaching routines, rituals and consequences, etc. children develop a feeling of community and belonging within in the group as they see how their part affects the whole.
In my next post, I’ll discuss the first of Lewis’ three pillars of Parent Encouragement Training.
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