Changing Children’s Behavior Part II
Goals of Misbehavior
Rudolf Dreikurs identified four common negative cycles that he termed “goals of misbehavior:” attention, power, revenge, and displays of inadequacy. It’s unfortunate that he named them “goals” because it confuses things. The goal is always the same — to have a unique and secure place. It’s more helpful to see the cycles as methods or styles that children resort to when they cannot find positive ways to interact. All four methods are available to anyone when he or she gets discouraged. If one technique doesn’t work, the frustrated child often moves on to the next. (Adult misbehavior isn’t that different; only more complex or more hidden.)
I’ve observed that parents and children don’t necessarily move through the different types of negative interaction in a linear way, from one kind of negative cycle to the next. Sometimes they get stuck in one pattern. Sometimes they develop a repertoire of negativity that includes all four styles.
What unhappy families have in common is that the negative cycles begin to take on a life of their own. Although they may angrily blame the kids for being rotten kids, the parents often feel terribly guilty for the way they feel about their children and bankrupt as effective parents. Meanwhile, the children become more and more discouraged. Self-esteem suffers and they learn to be experts in being as “rotten” as their parents accuse them of being. The exceptions are the saddest children of all — those who give up being terrible behavior problems and eventually become clinically depressed. These are the children who no longer believe that anyone will notice them no matter what they do.
In summary: All behavior is an attempt to find a place in the group. In children, it’s an instinctive effort to be noticed and nurtured and to find a unique place in the family. Negative behaviors are interactional. They are something that happen between parent and child. It’s hard to spot the beginning of a negative cycle, but we can identify one by recognizing typical patterns. See the charts below. Once we understand what is going on, we can be far more effective in correcting the problem.
When a child misbehaves,
|The adult feels ___ and tries to correct the child.||The child then . . .||The adult then. . .||So it is a cycle of . . .|
|Annoyed, irritated||Stops temporarily, starts again soon||Keeps pushing the child away; acts annoyed||Attention|
|Angry, defeated, as if authority is threatened||Continues and gets worse||Engages in battle or tries to avoid it by withdrawing (fight or flight).||Power|
|Disappointed, let down, hurt, may be provoked to be mean.||Escalates further or adds something that hurts.||Hurts back. Provokes guilt, feels guilty.||Revenge|
|Bewildered, as if perhaps the situation is hopeless.||Gives up; acts lifeless, helpless, lost||Pities, treats the child as “unable,” acts embarrassed||Inadequacy|