Is your child or teen acting out?

There are 4 goals of misbehavior in children and teens

You have seen them… the child screaming for attention in the store or the teen who dresses in a way impossible to ignore, the one who plays helpless and asks for help before even trying to problem-solve on his own, the child who talks back and “hates” his parents, and the one who insists on his or her way and attempts to rule the roost.

What do they all have in common?

They are working to get love and connection from their parents.  No, it’s not a typo; it might not make sense logically, but emotionally, it does.

All children, whether they are toddlers or high schoolers, have 2 primary needs: to be loved unconditionally and to belong.  If they feel discouraged and perceive they cannot belong in a useful way, they start acting up.  They actually want 1 of 4 things: they either want to get attention, power, revenge, or display inadequacy.

Let’s look at these “goals of misbehavior”, and what might be an effective strategy to coach your child toward more positive behavior.

GOAL # 1: Attention

All kids need attention and a large part of parenting is to give our kids attention.  But when your child mistakenly believes that the only way to belong is to have your attention –and will misbehave to get it– it becomes problematic.

You know when your child is misbehaving in an effort to get your attention if your reaction is to get annoyed or bothered.  Your natural response will be to coax, remind, nag or criticize.  Your child will usually respond by stopping the behavior temporarily and then starting it up again later for more attention.

    Examples:

  • Actively seeking attention:You are visiting with a friend when your 9 yr old daughter asks you to watch her do a cartwheel on the lawn.  You oblige happily, remark on her progress and go back to your discussion.  But a minute later, you’re showered with another wave of “watch me Daddy, watch me!”, quickly followed by “Watch me again!” and again, and again…  Her bid for attention might escalate until she falls and receives your complete attention.  With a teenager, you might find that your son does something that annoys you.  After you step in to correct the behavior, he may stop but before long, he moves on to another annoying behavior.
  • Passively seeking attention:  Instead, your son might do nothing and simply expect to be waited on.

Solution: Encourage your child to join in  and be part of things in a positive way.  Ignore your child’s obvious bid for attention and instead focus and draw attention to something else entirely.  At a different time, offer positive attention when he or she isn’t trying to get it.  Catch him or her being good.

 

GOAL # 2: Power

Part of growing more independent is to feel more in control. In and of itself, power is a positive goal.  It only becomes a problem if, as with attention, your child feels that the only way to connect is by having the power.  In the case of teens, it’s a very common goal of course since they are often very focused on gaining autonomy.

Your clue to the fact that your child is trying to show power is that you will tend to respond by feeling angry or threatened. You might try to make him obey or you might give in. If you choose to fight and make him do what you want, he will fight back.  If you choose to give in, he’ll stop acting out since he won and got what he wanted.

    Examples:

  • Actively seeking Power:Your child may deliberately break your rules like going biking without a helmet, choosing friends he knows you are uncomfortable with, or refusing to come home when you ask.
  • Passively seeking Power: Sometimes, your child will comply with your request but do it slowly or sloppily hence communicating that although you can make him do what you want him to do, he can control how he does it.

Solution: Look for ways to give your child more choices.  Encourage your child to gain independence and be responsible.  Don’t fight or give in, let consequences simply happen.

 

GOAL # 3: Revenge

If your child loses a power struggle and feels hurt, he may decide to get revenge.

As a parent, you might feel shocked, hurt and angry.  You might react by trying to get even and in return, your child will try to get more revenge, continuing the cycle with no end in sight.

    Examples:

  • Actively seeking Revenge:Your child might say or do something hurtful. Teens might take risks with the whole goal of shocking or worrying you.
  • Passively seeking Revenge: Your child may choose to glare at you angrily.

Solution: Refuse to take things personally.  Refuse to get even. Don’t enter in a cycle of escalating revenge. Focus on building trust and respect when everyone is calm.

 

GOAL # 4: Display of Inadequacy

Sometimes a child will try to connect with his parents by acting helpless in a particular area.  He or she perceives that the only way they will connect with you is by convincing you they are helpless.

When your child’s goals is truly to display inadequacy (as opposed to a plight to get your attention which will elicit an annoyed emotional response), he just wants to be excused from the task.  He wants you to stop expecting anything from him.  You are likely to feel like giving up too.  Although you may not voice it out loud, you might in fact think that your child is helpless in that area.  You might give up and do nothing.  If you do give up and agree to expect nothing from your child, his goal has been met but at a very high price.

    Examples:

  • Your child may try to convince you he can’t figure out homework, do a good job at their chores, or make friends.

Solution: Because a child who gives up is very discouraged, focus on progress and encourage any effort. Don’t pity them and don’t give up.

 

When your teen or child is acting out, take a minute to determine what your child’s misbehavior payoff is and change the way you react. You can help your child develop more positive beliefs and strategies about getting your love and connection.

To learn more about identifying and responding to your kids’ behavior, pick up the book STEP Parenting: Systematic Training for Effective Parenting by Dinkmeyer or their Teen version of the book: Parenting Teenagers: Systematic Training for Effective Parenting of Teens. It is an extremely valuable resource and can make a huge difference.  Or call me at (919) 745-7569!

 

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What are you Willing to Give Up?



What are you willing to give up?

Have you ever had a nightmare that seemed real? During Nicolas’ youth sports we saw many nightmares come true when it came to watching fathers coach their sons’ team. Whether it was the other parents in the stands complaining of favoritism and unfair playing time, the coach getting upset at how his son was playing or the son acting out in defiance of the father; it seemed that for both the father and the son there was more pain associated to coaching and playing than pleasure.

So, there I was on the Board of Directors at the YMCA, my son on a basketball roster that had no coach, and the Director of the YMCA asking me if I had ever considered coaching.

Of course, I had considered it and promptly dismissed it. I had all of the freedom that I wanted being the “Best Fan” on the sidelines. All I had to do was show up, sit down and cheer for Nicolas from the bench and occasionally bring drinks. Bringing drinks was the best part because I could bring his favorite flavor Gatorade and be the hero without much effort.

As I heard myself say, “Sure, I can be an assistant coach for the team,” I was screaming inside of my head, “What did you just say?” And, as I showed up on the first day of practice, as the Head Coach for the team, I was way out of my comfort zone.

A funny thing happened as the weeks of practice and games progressed. I received some basketball training books, I checked out training DVD’s from the library, and continued to educate and discipline myself to show up with a plan for every practice. I agonized over every drill, every tip, hint and suggestion that I gave every young boy. I arm chair quarterbacked myself in my abilities after every practice and game. And, through personal discipline to always be a better coach, learned a lot.

One practice in particular, I took candy to reward players for some drills we did at the end of practice and as the boys eagerly grabbed and fought for their favorite flavor, one young boy on the team, Johnny declined. His dad explained to me that for Lent he had given up candy. Johnny was 9 at the time and I was seriously impressed at the character and discipline he was living. As I learned more about Johnny I found that he played on our team, his school team, and lived at the gym playing ball with the grownups 7 days a week. His mom would pick him up from his school practice, feed him in the car and bring him to our practice. Sometimes after our practice, if his schoolwork was completed, his dad would take him to the gym to play.

Many people in life want the Freedom and instant gratification that comes from having no discipline or rules. You have heard people say, “I want to be thin so that I can eat whatever I want” or “I wish I was rich so I could buy anything that I wanted and not worry about money ever again.” If you were thin, you would not eat anything you wanted and if you did, you would not be thin for long. Same with being rich, if you never focused and concerned about how you spent your money, you would find yourself broke.

True Freedom in life comes only through discipline. The word discipline comes from the root word disciple, which means, “a student, a learner.” Discipline also comes in two different forms. We can discipline ourselves to NOT have something. During Lent, it is traditionally represented as something that you “give up” for the 40 days. If you are older, you may remember that every Friday it was tradition to not eat red meat. Fasting is also associated with Lent in order to represent cleansing and purification. The ability to discipline ourselves also can be done to “have” something. I personally am giving up procrastination and am disciplining myself to “Have” more focus in my writing and business sales everyday.

We learn through gaining knowledge, taking action and self evaluation. The freedom of movement a thin person experiences only comes by being disciplined about what they put in their mouth and how they move their body to exercise. A rich person is rich because they have disciplined themselves on how to maximize their income and cut their expenses to an acceptable standard of living for themselves. Johnny will grow up and experience the joy and freedom of being on his high school team, college team, and I believe the NBA because he disciplines himself to create positive habits and behaviors that put him ahead. The freedom to REALLY develop a meaningful relationship with my son only came when I overcame my own fears and insecurities. I disciplined myself with gaining knowledge, planning, taking action, and self evaluating my performance to become the coach that I wanted to be for myself, my son, and his team mates.

If you want to travel more, buy that new car, improve your relationships, move towards that more meaningful job it will only come from disciplining yourself to do something new in order to grow. I would encourage you to find a place in life where you can set a higher standard of discipline for yourself. You will be amazed at the results you will receive from it in the long run. Nicolas will not remember that I used to bring Lemon-Lime Gatorade for his drinks once a season, but he will always remember me as his coach and “Best Fan.” You can the freedom to have all that you desire in life with a little more discipline. It is the essence of success and the cornerstone of character.

To your continued success,

James M Murphy