In my last post I discussed the reasons for children’s misbehavior. According to Psychologist Alfred Adler, misbehavior is just a misguided attempt to achieve either significance (personal power) or belonging(uniqueness or specialness).
Now we need a prescription to meet those needs. As we consider this, think preventative care in contrast to urgent care. Just like we wash our hands out of habit to prevent getting the flu; we want to develop habits as parents that will help prevent our children’s acting out behavior.
Meeting Your Child’s Need for Significance
A child’s misguided attempt to achieve significance can look like obstinance, badgering, back-talk, negotiating, or any other behavior which invites a power struggle. So how do we address this need in a positive way before our child acts out?
Ban the Boss
In an attempt to manage the chaos of our busy lives, many of us take on the role of Mom-as- CEO. And while this may feel like an effective strategy to get everything done, it can feel extremely disempowering and disrespectful to children. Use non-controlling language whenever possible.
When we offer choices in lieu of controlling directives, we are empowering our kids and giving them the experience of having some personal control in their lives. Choices can be simple, small and made throughout the day, but must have two options that you can live with. So the choice (as it pertains to homework for example), isn’t whether they will do their homework, but rather when (before or after practice) and where (in their bedroom or at the kitchen counter).
Meeting Your Child’s Need for Belonging
Alternatively, when a child is trying to achieve belonging in negative ways, their behavior may look like interrupting, clinging, whining, helplessness, or any other attention-seeking behavior. The following techniques address this need in a more positive manner:
Unlike a special outing or treat, this requires nothing more extraordinary than simply taking 10 minutes out of your day, twice a day to spend it 1:1 with each of your children. When we give our kids uninterrupted, individual attention, even in short bursts, we are giving them the message that they are important and special. Allow your child to pick the activity (something simple like Uno, playing catch, or reading together) and try to make your time as consistent as possible so that your child can anticipate when it will happen.
When we listen with our full attention, without judgment or comment, we are expressing to our children that what they have tosay is the most important thing in that moment. “Listen earnestly to anything your children want to tell you, no matter what. If you don't listen eagerly to the little stuff when they are little, they won't tell you the big stuff when they are big, because to them all of it has always been big stuff.” ~Catherine M. Wallace
When we take the time to use these 4 simple techniques in a consistent manner, we are building healthy habits to forge relationships of trust and connection with our children. They feel empowered and special, and their need to get our attention with misbehavior diminishes.
So next time your child is acting out, consider what they are really trying to tell you.