When we hear the voices of our parents from inside of our heads, we call that our “parent tapes.” We all have them. Some are ones we like to hear, and some are ones we don’t want to listen to; some are even hurtful. Since few of us were educated to be parents, we mostly play our “parent tapes” to know how or how not to parent our children. And by and large, when our children are doing well we’re pretty satisfied with our skills; but when our children misbehave, embarrass us, disappoint us, or become unhappy, we begin to wonder what we could do differently.
We need to have a new set of tools in our parenting toolbox. One of them can be an understanding of why children misbehave. Children have certain needs that when unmet cause them to act out in differing ways. Children need to feel like they belong to our family, need to feel important, need to feel loved, and need to feel powerful. When these needs are met, children behave properly. When they are not met, children choose one of four ways of behaving in order to get their needs met.
Children may become annoying in order to get more attention from us, even negative attention. Attention equals importance or love to a child. Children may become uncooperative and unwilling to mind us when they feel their need for power is unfulfilled. Getting into power struggles with adults, even though the children do not win, helps children feel powerful. When children are hurt or don’t feel like they belong to the family, they may become hateful and say or do hurtful things to others around them, including their parents. When children feel like they can’t contribute something of value to the family, they may give up and quit trying to do even things they can do because they are so discouraged.
According to the way children think, these ways of behaving provide satisfaction for the children and are interpreted by them as working. Adolph Adler calls these responses of children “mistaken goals”. The children are mistaken in thinking these ways of behaving are productive. In fact, these responses are most uncomfortable for us adults. Either we feel annoyed, angry, hurt, or helpless when our children choose these mistaken goals. We in turn often give responses that do not advance our parenting skills and are not of benefit to our children.
What then can we do to help our children meet their needs for emotional health? We can begin by first deciding which mistaken goal our child is choosing. Once we know that, we can then respond accordingly. If your child needs attention and is demanding it, give it to her when she’s not demanding it. If you child needs power, don’t get into a power struggle but instead give her special jobs of responsibility. If your child feels hurt by some action you took, work on your relationship with your child without judgment. If your child is discouraged, encourage her by helping her take smaller steps where she can be more successful.
While the job of parenting is challenging, there is help out there for you. Lots of books have been written about this type of positive discipline and many are available in the office. Then, too, we offer Redirecting Children’s Behavior classes for parents. Join us.
Director/Elementary 1 Teacher