Often when our kids act in ways that we disapprove of we are quick to jump to punitive measures and miss the opportunity to understand what's going on for them to address it in a way that supports their long term learning rather than just making the behavior go away right now.
There is a saying in the world of parenting: "Be careful of what works now."
You can yell at your child, spank them, shame them, punish them, but this doesn't correct the behavior and it doesn't get at the root of why the behavior was there in the first place, it also causes long term negative effects on their sense of belonging and significance in the world. Somewhere parents got the idea that we have to treat kids in a punitive or shameful way in order for them to stop engaging in the behavior.
Have you noticed those behaviors keep showing their faces even though what you did worked in the moment?
So, let's start with four key concepts in understanding why the behavior is there to begin with. In a later article we'll talk about how to address them.
Undue attention: When a child is acting out to get attention this is a based on them feeling like they are not important unless they have your undivided attention. Any attention is good attention and therefore even punitive interventions on the parents part reinforces for this child that this behavior gets them attention. The mistaken belief “I belong only if I have your attention”.
Misguided Control: Often a child will behave in ways that communicate that they feel out of control; feel equal to the adults around them or in efforts to gain control. Similar to undue attention, misguided control is an attempt at belonging. Parents often feel provoked, challenged or threatened and their response escalates the child’s behavior. The mistaken belief for the child is “I belong only when I’m the boss or in control or proving no one can boss me”.
Revenge: Has your child ever threatened to hurt you physically, actually attempted to hurt by hitting, kicking, etc? When this happens parents may feel hurt, angry, disappointed and respond by retaliating. The child’s mistaken believe is “I don’t think I belong so I’ll hurt you so you can hurt as much as I do. I can’t be like or loved”.
Assumed Inadequacy: Sometimes children are inadequate at things they have yet to learn or master. With this misguided goal of behavior they believe its better to give up and be left alone. “I don’t believe I can belong so I’ll convince others not to expect anything of me.” When a child has the skills and abilities but behaves in a way that indicates inadequacy the goal is to give up to be left alone. Sometimes this behavior may also actually be an attempt at undue attention and is a sneaky one to detect. Parents may find themselves respond by giving up or over helping and developing / fostering a child’s sense of inadequacy.
All behavior is purposeful and the primary goal of all is to feel a sense of belonging and significance. Children and adults often adopt one or more these four mistaken goals in efforts to get what they need.