Creative Child

The Four Goals of Misbehavior Series: Part Two

(Revenge and Inadequacy)
by Rebecca Eanes

Is your child’s behavior baffling you? It can be difficult to understand what is motivating a child’s poor behavior. In this article, I’m continuing the discussion of Dr. Rudolf Dreikurs work on his four goals of misbehavior. He was a psychiatrist who founded and was the medical director of the Community Child Guidance Center in Chicago. Dreikurs was influenced by social psychologist Alfred Adler who believed that the central motivation of all humans is to belong and be accepted by others. He believed that all behavior was purposeful and directed toward achieving social approval. Dreikurs suggested that all misbehavior is eh result of a child’s mistaken assumption about how to find a place and gain status.

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Following is an overview of the last two of Dreikurs’ four goals of misbehavior along with my own suggestions on how to deal with each one.

Goal three: Revenge

I think author Kylie Rymanowicz said it best: “Revenge is a dish best served cold and sometimes it’s served in a sippy cup.” When a child feels hurt, they may lash out and try to hurt you. That’s because they don’t yet have the maturity or the tools to deal with such difficult emotions. This kind of behavior is perhaps the most difficult to see through. When a child is exhibiting revenge-seeking behavior, it’s easy to see him as bad rather than as a hurting child. Only when we see past the behavior to the hurt can we truly help stop this kind of behavior. Resist the urge to retaliate or punish because this only adds to the pain.

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To deal with and thwart this kind of behavior, it’s important to establish boundaries. Helping children to understand and stay within the boundaries we set makes them feel safe and secure – like the yellow lines on the road. Without those yellow lines, driving would be scary. Without boundaries, life is scary. Boundaries are necessary; it’s the way we enforce those boundaries that determine whether we are being positive parents. Make sure the boundaries are fair and age-appropriate, and hold them lovingly, providing empathy and understanding when children get upset about the rules. Talk about the importance of respectful communication and discuss what is appropriate and respectful and what isn’t.

Become your child’s emotion coach. Help them understand and name their emotions, and talk about ways to work through those emotions. This is both a skill and a developmental milestone. Very young children cannot be expected to control their emotions consistently because they do not yet have the cognitive resources to do so, but we can still talk about emotions to set the foundation for them to build upon as they grow.

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