Are You Inadvertently Reinforcing Misbehaviour?
To understand how to address misbehaviour, we need to be familiar with the progressive 4 Goals of Misbehaviour according to Adlerian theory: Attention, Power, Revenge, and Assumed Inadequacy (as mentioned in an earlier article.)
The biggest mistake is to immediately react to the misbehaviour and not pause to collect our thoughts, or consider the feelings behind our children’s behaviour.
Proactive Strategies for Handling Misbehaviour
Tip #1: Your thoughts create your feelings. If your child’s behaviour is triggering you, what are your thoughts? Are you having “should” thoughts? “Should” thoughts set us up for failure…My child should be able to do this…My child should not be doing this… etc. Instead of having “should” thoughts, pause, take a deep breath, and try to put yourself in your child’s shoes at this moment.
Tip #2: Empathy, empathy, empathy! What are the “setting events” for your child right now? Setting events are the factors that could be contributing to the problem such as tiredness, hunger, over-stimulation, under-stimulation, illness, temperament, hormones/puberty (which can start at age 9 yrs.), a diagnosis such as a neurological disorder etc.
Tip #3: More empathy! What are the feelings behind the behaviour? Behaviour is always a form of communication. What feeling is your child trying to communicate? Is your child feeling anxious, scared, over-excited, frustrated, hurt, sad. powerless etc?
Tip #4: “ FEELINGS FIRST, LOGICS LAST!” This is my new slogan. It is tempting to lecture, but until the right-brain feelings have been acknowledged and settled, the left-brain logical side will not be able to hear any kind of problem-solving conversation. Stay calm, and continue to acknowledge your child. Their age and the intensity of their emotions will determine your response. For a younger child you may say “You’re really mad right now”, for an older child this could drive them crazy, and you would be better off saying “I know you’re mad and I understand that you’re furious with me” or “You’re having a really rough day”. As Dr. Gordon Neufeld says, move them from “mad to sad”. Stay with them and help them soften their defenses – that is your goal. You still stick to the limit you set (if this is what started this escalation), but you also empathize with their feelings. (Next week I’ll discuss limit setting).
Tip #5: What’s the mistaken belief behind the misbehaviour? How does it make you feel?
If you, as the parent, are feeling annoyed, worried, irritated or guilty, your child is most likely engaging in attention-seeking behaviours. He/she mistakingly believes that he/she is more significant and has a greater sense of belonging when receiving attention even if it is negative attention. Key: Ignore the negative attention-seeking behaviour and re-direct to something where you can give positive attention. Refrain from coaxing, bribing, reminding, snapping, as these tactics will strengthen the behaviour.
If you are feeling angry or threatened, the goal of the misbehaviour is most likely power. Key: Drop the rope, take the wind out of your child’s sails – disengage. Pause, take some time to re-group. Routines, consistency and predictability will be your best allies. Family meetings are also essential for the power-seeking child. Create jobs where the child can help and take on appropriate leadership responsibilities. Be kind and firm. (Empathize and set limits). Give your child choices. Refrain from losing your temper, and punishing, as this will strengthen the power dynamics.
If you are feeling hurt, or disappointed, the goal of the misbehaviour is most likely revenge. The child is feeling hurt and so he/she is out to hurt others. Key: Empathize, acknowledge their feelings and don’t take their hurtful words/actions personally – they are hurting inside. Find opportunities to reconnect, and re-pair. Refrain from hurting back, and punishing.
If you are feeling hopeless, pity, or helpless, your child has most likely reached the stage of assumed inadequacy. He/she appears to have given up. Key: Use “encouragement” not praise. Break tasks into smaller steps. Notice strengths. Find opportunities for success. Refrain from feeling sorry for your child and over-functioning or expecting nothing.
When in doubt, find ways to re-connect. A misbehaving child is a child who perceives him/herself as lacking in the 4 C’s of: connection (I belong), courage (I can handle what comes), counting (I can make a difference and I have a say), and feeling capable (I believe I can do it.)
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