Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Misguided Goals of Revenge

A new round of Positive Parenting classes began just a couple of weeks ago and has stimulated some great conversations. One of the things parents report that they really appreciate about the class is how everyone shares what their challenges are and that this gives them permission to not feel like they are “ruining  their kid’s lives”, that it’s “O.K. to make mistakes” and to “know that other parents struggle with some of the same things.

One of the first things that came up this round was about a child’s hitting behavior. One parent reported that another parenting class had instructed her to hit  or bite the child back, another parent reported reading in a book to put their child in a time out, another parent reported they were told to ignore the behavior. What was striking to me was that there was no discussion about addressing what was going on for the child. Connect before you correct.

Similarly, when a child says “I hate you” or a little guy says “You’re not my friend”, there is communication there. Many of you may have seen the recent viral video of the dad berating his daughter publicly regarding a Facebook post she wrote which was filled with very hurtful statements. This dad goes on to shoot her computer with a hand gun, ground her for some lengthy period of time and punish her in as many ways as he could conceive that were legal. This dad was praised and criticized in droves including everything from this dad is a hero to this dad is abusive. He even responds in writing about the incident and his response. At one point he clearly states his daughter doesn’t remember former and similar offenses or her punishment. This dad missed the mark by a long shot. He missed what his daughter was communicating. She was angry, hurting and really wanting attention. Without further conversations with this daughter or parent we cannot clearly determine what they were feeling. This is the key. Pay attention to how you are feeling in response to your child’s behavior. This will clue you in to the misguided goal of their behavior.

At some point and time our children engage in behavior that is steeped in the misguided goal of revenge. They want us to hurt as badly as they hurt. If you find yourself responding emotionally to your child in disbelief, hurt, disgust or disappointment this is information to act on. Often parents want to retaliate. They want their child to know they are not going to get away with treating them this badly. The child responds to this parental reaction in kind and escalates the behavior and may also retaliate again ensuing a cycle that will likely end at minimum with a damaged relationship. The child thinks “I don’t belong”, “I’ll get them back”, “I can’t be loved anyway”. How reinforcing is it for those thoughts and beliefs when a child acts out and is met with punishment and revenge for their actions?

Try this instead:
  • Talk to your child
  • Use reflective listening
  • Ask questions about what you notice or what might be going on behind that behavior
  • Avoid punishment and retaliation
  • Make amends
  • Encourage their strengths

After all you did not wake up in the morning deciding to be the worst parent you can be and your child certainly didn’t wake up choosing to be the worst version of themselves either. Think about a time you were punished. Were you sitting in your room thinking about what you would do differently next time? Most likely you were scheming how to not get caught next time, how to get back at them or deciding that you weren’t worthy of being treated with respect. You have the opportunity to be a different parent for your child and to be connected in a relationship that is based on mutual respect, independence and personal responsibility.