Radhika suddenly says "I want to go home". Rahul walks across and takes his mother's hand away from the switch and restarts the television. Jonathan threatens, screams and throws things at his father.
Sheena is late for school but is not ready to get out of her bed.
In all the above cases, even if they are all misbehaving, parents and teachers rarely figure out the difference. When we blanket term any misconduct as misbehaviour. They all look the same. Probing a little bit can give some access. If we cannot figure out the goal as a parent, we are left gasping for help. Finding out what the child intends to achieve by exhibiting such misbehaviour is the primary task. Parents have to figure out what emotions they feel when their child throws a tantrum. Let's look at 4 different goals.
1) When the goal is attention.
When a parent feels annoyed and is even ready to cajole. This feeling of a parent is a clear indication that the child wants attention. What you feel as a teacher or a parent is important to find out what the goal behind misbehaving is. The child temporarily stops the action when given attention and again after a break starts misbehaving. Like Radhika who says "let's go home", and the moment she gets some attention from her mother she stops. After a while she again says "let's go home". The belief running behind attention seeking goal is “I only count when I'm being noticed or being observed”. In such situations avoid eye contact, & verbal communication. Non verbally make them feel attended, take this action, an immediate gentle tap on the shoulder or brushing the hair can be very supportive, rather than getting annoyed and screaming back “five more minutes”. Also, some kind of teaching is required as a preventive measure. If the usual goal of your child is attention you have to teach him how to get attention differently. Different ways like being creative. Also, that he/she matters even if no one gives special attention.
2) When the goal is power.
In this case, you feel challenged and provoked. When your child misbehaves you feel like you need the power. You get a thought that "they can't get away with this no matter what". On the other hand, your child intensifies action, he wants to win and start being a boss. The thought which is running behind is "I only count when I'm dominating" or "you do what I want" or " You can't boss me". Power-play has to be smartly handled, a power-play usually happens when the parent also has a need to prove he is in control. The best that the parent can do in such situations is start giving choices and not orders. Stop arguing immediately, maintain a friendly eye contact, be firm and calm. Give the child useful ways to feel powerful. So instead of abruptly going and switching off the television and declaring "no more TV now" think what can be done differently here. How can you give different choices about not watching television and please don't tell me that you have tried everything. Usually, parents who have problems with managing power suddenly become powerless and say things like we have tried all of that. You have not. Trust me.
3)When the goal is revenge.
As a parent when you feel hurt or anger. Thought triggers "how can he do this to me". Figure out that the goal of your child is to take revenge. They want to get even with you. What's going in their mind is" if people can hurt me why can't I hurt them back" usually in such cases the parent's ego writes checks which the body can't cash. Parents are so shocked and hurt that figuring out a different way immediately is next to impossible for them. First come out of your resentfulness. Empathize with them. Ensure that you do not hurt them back by reminding them incidences of the past. Re-establish the relationship; repairing resentful situations is hell of a task. Make amendments to yourself. Punishing in such situations, however creative it might be will not help. Because punishing a victim who thinks he is not will make you more of a victim. As a parent start observing what type of language you use when you lose it. Try being more compassionate in difficult situations. Parents who have children with behaviour of externalizing and goal of revenge usually don't take responsibility for their child's behaviour. A child who cannot take revenge on their parents usually starts doing this on a schoolmate or bully another person. Breaking glasses or property of the school is the behaviour of revenge of how parents or teachers behave with the child. As a parent, taking responsibility for such behaviour is very important, rather than saying "he's a quiet child at home". Major changes have to be done by parents, like the way they speak and express their anger among themselves. Also while expressing anger to others, neighbors, housemaid etc.
4) When the goal is to show inadequacy.
When the parent feels depressed, helpless or pity on your own child. The major goal of your child is to show their inadequacy. The child starts to feel that there is no use to try and become very passive about taking actions, and always tries to withdraw from situations where work is needed. The thought running inside them is "I can't do anything right, so I won't do anything at all". "I am no good". Misbehaviour happens in the morning hours when they are late for school or at late-night when they suddenly remember a project they have to submit tomorrow in school. They challenge your concept of being a good mother/ father. So you start doing their project keeping aside everything you have. Parents have to stop showing pity and doing the work for them. Many parents start doing the project for their children by showing pity on them. Rather, you should arrange small victories and successes. Avoid doing it for them. Praise them for small efforts and actions. Don't false praise, they act as if they are dumb to get the work done. They are not actually dumb, so save your applause. Redirect their self-talk, don't assert their negative thoughts. Keep small goals and let them accomplish and overcome small hurdles, let them feel capable and worthwhile.
Even though many children portray one or two of these goals, but they can mix & merge combinations of misbehaviour to achieve their goal. So better be prepared with all four situations because when they are planning to misbehave they are unaware about what type of misbehaviour you are ready to deal. Their whole purpose of misbehaving is to get their job done. Start being a smarter parent by understanding their goal and try to respond differently. There are a lot of parents who are bankrupt with ideas and don't come up with a new one and just keep on saying that they have tried everything. The goal of such parents is also one of the above.
Please share if you are using these techniques and want more such for different parenting challenges you face.
References : What Works When with Children and Adolescents: A Handbook of Individual Counseling Techniques - Ann Vernon Maintaining Sanity In The Classroom: Classroom Management Techniques - Rudolf Dreikurs. Children: the Challenge: The Classic Work on Improving Parent-Child Relations--Intelligent, Humane, and E minently Practical (Plume) - Rudolf Dreikurs
About the Author
Learning addict. Speaker. Writer. Thought designer. Senior Psychologist and Trainer at Hope Doctors
Co-founder (Metamorphosis, Innovationadda). Author of GRIP™ why people don’t do what they want to.