As mentioned in last month’s article, children need attention to let them know that they matter, they belong. If a child craves attention, but can't get it in a satisfying way, he or she will often move to the 2nd goal which is to gain power. Children need to have control over certain areas of their lives. It makes them feel capable and independent. It doesn’t take long for children to identify the areas that you can’t control; even though many parents try. Activities such as eating, sleeping, brushing teeth, bathing, and dressing are activities around which children recognize their power to get parents upset by slowing down or resisting, thereby gaining control.
The child who wants power may defy adults and improve their status. Then, they matter, they count, they are somebody. There is Something about engaging in a power struggle with adults that make children feel powerful and important even if they are severely punished. Power-hungry children provoke arguments, refuse to obey, throw tantrums, tell lies, and show disrespect; but even if they don't win the argument they feel important for being in it. Believing that if they can’t get what they want, they can get something including laughter or approval from siblings or peers by defying authority is the goal. But. it takes two to fight. If you take the bait, you’ll lose. When children are thinking and behaving in this way, they have succeeded in making life difficult for you but the thinking and behavior is misguided and they need to be taught rather than punished.
What is the solution?
1. Provide opportunities for responsibility and give recognition for a job well done. When children are trusted and are given important jobs, they will (almost always) rise to the challenge. This way the child is finding acceptance and belonging by appropriate uses of power.
2. Together, make clear rules made ahead of time. When difficult situations arise, simply ask, “What’s the rule?
3. The Pick your battles. Make sure it’s worth fight. If you must discipline make sure it’s appropriate to the misbehavior and do it in a quiet, and immediate fashion.
4. Be firm, kind and calm.
5. Refuse to participate in hostile verbal or nonverbal exchanges. Resist the temptation to "show him or her that you know more or that you always get the last word,"
6. When emotions have cooled, (you’ll be more effective then.) approach the child with no one else present. Speak about the problem-behavior in a direct, and specific way. "I can't allow you to hit your sister that way. I need you to think of how to be with her without hitting. What can you do differently?" Stay with the issues until the child has several workable solutions. This leaves control with the child and trusts that he or she will struggle to behave differently.
7. Be straight with your children about what’s within their control and what’s not. Allow them to make decisions and assert their power in their own way when it’s about their stuff.
This is a simple, loving way to teach acceptable behavior. Remember, you are teaching your children how to do life, how to feel about themselves, and how to be in relationships. Teaching rather that punishment works best. This was, no one is beaten down, mistreated, or left feeling hopeless thereby prompting a revenge.
Next Month we’ll discuss revenge seeking behavior
© Rachell N. Anderson, Psy. D. August 14, 2012