Children and Annoying Behavior

    What Kids Are Really After From Parents

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    While at the store the other day, I noticed a parent try to quiet a whining child. I saw the parent rolling his eyes, and I released an empathetic sigh. I knew how he felt when I heard the pleading:  “Please, just be quiet for fifteen minutes – just this once, okay? I need to focus.”

    As a good parent, and by that, I mean a normal parent, you’re going to become annoyed, frustrated, and angry with your child. More specifically, you have these feelings about your child’s behavior. In fact, strong feelings aren’t usually triggered by something your child does once or twice; they are triggered by negative behavior patterns.

    Your responses, of which you may or may not be proud, stem not from just one thing your child has done, but from the fact that your child exhibits this behavior over and over again. You have explained it to her calmly, you have used a firm tone, and you may have yelled and screamed. Maybe you have allowed her to experience what’s called a natural consequence or creatively provided her with a logical consequence.

    But still, here you are. She’s doing it again – and you are tired.

    Have you heard about Adlerian psychology? Based on Alfred Adler’s theory, social psychologist Rudolf Dreikurs proposed that responding to one of four possible goals that drive it could change your child’s behavior.

    When I heard about it for the first time, I thought, This is way too simple to be true. But in my work, I have gone back to this theory consistently to help put an end to misbehavior patterns. My favorite part is that you can recognize your child’s goals of misbehavior by identifying how the behavior makes you feel, and how you usually respond to it. Let’s examine the four goals of misbehavior.

    Attention

    This is possibly the most common one. If your child’s behavior frequently makes you feel bothered and annoyed, leading you to constantly remind, nag, or scold them, then your child may be looking for attention – negative attention, but attention nonetheless.

    What should you do? 

    • Step back from giving negative attention. Instead of reminding her, allow your child to experience the consequence of forgetting something.

    • Talk less. If something has been said many times before, it may not need to be said again.

    • Give positive attention. Notice things your child does, and tell her about it. Go further than a simple “Good job!” Instead, tell her what you see: “You are sitting there playing all by yourself.”

    Power  

    “She is just trying to get attention,” you may say. But is she? If your child’s behavior is making you feel angry, or even threatened, you are probably engaged in a power struggle. Your response may be to punish, fight back, or just give in. But if your child continues to defy you, or she does what you asked, but slowly or in a sloppy manner, her goal is to feel powerful and keep control. The solution is not to show her who is in charge. It is to give her a sense of control.

    What should you do?

    • Allow your child opportunities to take control and make decisions.

    • Don’t argue for the sake of winning.

    • When you are becoming angry, take a break. Your anger can cloud your judgment and fuel the power struggle.

    Revenge 

    This one may be less common. You recognize it by noticing that the interactions with your child leave you feeling extremely hurt and angry. You start to resent your child’s actions and feel like getting back at her. You want to show her how it feels to be on your end as a parent. But your child’s behavior gets worse, as she tries to get even with you, too. Take deep breaths. You may need to ask for help with this one. It may be the hardest goal to address.

    What should you do?

    • Consider looking at the relationship from your child’s perspective.

    • Identify how or why your child may have felt hurt in the past.

    • Acknowledge your child’s pain. Seek to feel compassion to break the cycle. Be the bigger person.

    Display of Inadequacy 

    Your child may have given up. She feels inadequate, or less than. And she communicates this by displaying an I-can’t-do-it attitude. If you feel hopeless and notice yourself enabling your child, then this might be the goal of her misbehavior.

    What should you do?

    • Stop trying so hard to convince your child that she is good enough. Point out her successes by just stating what you see, for example: “You worked hard on that, and then you got it right.” And do this a lot!

    • Break up tasks to make them simpler so your child can succeed.

    • Praise effort instead of results.

    Sounds simple, right? When you identify your child’s goal of misbehavior, you are able to change the pattern of your interactions. You can respond to your child’s needs in a way that disproves her negative beliefs and strengthens positive thoughts. As a result, your child’s behavior improves, you feel annoyed less often, you experience pleasant feelings toward your child, and that hopeless feeling of “this will never change” slowly dissipates.

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    Mark Loewen
    Mark Loewen, LPC, founded Launch Pad to help children and adults live happier and more fulfilling lives. As a counselor, play therapist, and parent coach, Mark enjoys helping children and families build strong relationships and achieve their goals, and sees clients at Launch Pad Counseling in Richmond.