Dr. Rachell N. Anderson
Have you ever head that Children Don’t Act Bad When They’re Feeling Good? Well, it’s true. Children want to be loved and accepted. They want to be connected to others and to count. And they want to do what adults want. When children fail to get the kind of love and attention that makes them feel valued or they are defeated in their struggles for power, they are likely to move to the third reason for misbehavior; to get even.
Revenge-seeking behaviors include bullying, vandalism, or aggression against their parents and children who are younger, smaller, or different. Here are some examples:
1. While in time-out for scratching her sister’s face, Cindy took out her secret stash of red Crayola and marked on the walls.
2. Audre, sent to her room for throwing her milk across the room because Mother refused to serve her a sugar filled drink, tore down the curtains and put them in the waste paper basket.
3. Matthew, swatted on the butt and sent to his room for yelling “I hate you, I hate you” when his mother found a candy bar in his pocket that he’d stolen from the local store. While confined to his room, he snuck across the hall and cut holes in his mother’s new dress.
These are actions of revenge seeking children, most parents have their own examples. The children mentioned above are communicating that they feel unaccepted and want to get even. These children have incorrect and mistaken ideas about what it takes to belong. Too often parents misread the behavior and punish rather than teach. Punishment (though commonly used) creates even greater feelings of alienation and the opportunity is missed to teach children how to function on the useful side of life. Revenge seeking behavior is serious business. If children carry this style into adulthood, dire consequences are guaranteed.
So What are parents to do?
1. Parenting is a process not a one time event. Teaching is the most effective part of the process. So, stay calm or wait until you are. No yelling or hysterics. Freaking out will only make things worse. In a firm but kind voice, point out the unacceptable behavior and tell the child what he or she must do to make things right. It is not wise to accept unacceptable behaviors. Accepting it leads children to believe the bad behavior is okey. (Like the parent who sent a mixed message when she took the candy, put in her own pocket and said to the child “You can’t have it because you stole it.”)
2. The child must make amends. Use what I call the 4 Rs. Return it; Replace it, Repair it, or Restitute for it. If children damage property, (wait until you cool down) and require the child to make restitution by earning the money for repairs or replacements. In Cindy’s case, she can help to clean up her sister’s wounds. Fancy band-aids may help. As hard as Crayola is to remove, Cindy should be required to clean it up, even is parents have to help. Audre may be taught to use the washer to wash the curtains, and get help with hanging them. Matthew must be required to take the candy back to the local store, tell the manager what he did, and ask to make amends. A wise parent parent should call and give the manager a heads-up and find out what to expect from the manager.
About the dress, Matthew can’t take back the hateful words but he should be required to work and pay for the complete value of the dress. Make sure to keep a written record each payment with him. Not making things right is not an option.
3. Discuss progress and give positive feedback for the things that go well. Find a way to compliment rather than criticize. Keep your cool and stay with the task until it’s done. Teach by demonstrating. Use this 3 step process:
A. Do the task, explaining while the child watches. Undo.
B. Do the task with the child. Undo.
C. Watch as the child does the task. Compliments.
Avoid bitching, yelling, and put-downs. Remember, these children are experiencing tremendous feelings of worthlessness as it is. They could benefit from being shown a kind thing or two.
4. To decrease problems in the future, have a list of consequences that logically fit the misbehavior. Use them instrat of punishment. Give them plenty of love, and affection even when the child appears unlovable.
5. Use what I call social strokes: smiles, hugs, pats on the back and eye contact to show them that they are important to you. Give them plenty attention for no reason at all (but not during misbehavior). Statements like “I love you.” “You are special to me.” Spend time with the child while helping them to develop their talents.
6. Focus more on what’s going right and less on what’s going wrong.
Remember, parents are teachers and as such, have a powerful impact on children’s world. When you show children more appropriate ways of being in the world, the world will be a better place for them, for you and for all with whom they come in contact.
Next month I’ll discuss “When Children Give Up”
© Rachell N. Anderson, Psy. D. September 12, 2012