Four Goals of Misbehavior

According to Adlerian theory and research done by Alred Adler there are four goals of misbeaivor.

It is important to understand the child’s goal in order to help redirect and set approriate limits and allow for  natural consequence.

The following is an excerpt from From “The ABC’s of Guiding the Child,” by Rudolf Dreikurs and Margaret Goldman.) http://www.adlerian.us/guid.htm

“His (the child) basic aim is to have significance and his place in the group. A well-adjusted child has found his way toward social acceptance by cooperating with the requirements of the group and by making his own useful contribution to it. The misbehaving child is still trying, in a mistaken way, to feel important in his own world. For examples a young child who has never been allowed to dress himself (because “the parent is in a hurry”), who has not been allowed to help in the house (“you’re not big enough to set the table”), may lack the feeling that he is a useful, contributing member of the family, and might feel important only when arousing a parent’s anger and annoyance with misbehavior.

The four goals of misbehavior. The child is usually unaware of his goals. His behavior, though illogical to others, is consistent with his own interpretation of his place in the family group.

  • Attention-getting: he wants attention and service. We respond by feeling annoyed and that we need to remind and coax him.
  • Power: he wants to be the boss. We respond by feeling provoked and get into a power contest with him–“you can’t get away with this!”
  • Revenge: he wants to hurt us. We respond by feeling deeply hurt– I’ll get even!”
  • Display of inadequacy: he wants to be left alone, with no demands made upon him. We respond by feeling despair–I don’t know what to do!”
  • If your first impulse is to react in one of these four ways, you can be fairly sure you have discovered the goal of the child’s misbehavior.

A child who wants to be powerful generally has a parent who also seeks power. One person cannot fight alone; when a parent learns to do nothing (by withdrawing, for example) during a power contest, she dissipates the child’s power, and can begin to establish a healthier relationship with him. The use of power teaches children only that strong people get what they want.

No habit is maintained if it loses its purpose, its benefits. Children tend to develop “bad” habits when they derive the benefit of negative attention.

Minimize mistakes. Making mistakes is human. We must have the courage to be imperfect. The child is also imperfect. Don’t make too much fuss and don’t worry about his mistakes. Build on the positive, not on the negative.

A family council gives every member of the family a chance to express himself freely in all matters of both difficulty and pleasure pertaining to the family. The emphasis should be on “What we can do about the situation.” Meet regularly at the same time each week. Rotate chairmen. Keep minutes. Have an equal vote for each member. Require a consensus, not a majority vote on each decision.

Have fun together and thereby help to develop a relationship based on enjoyment, mutual respect, love and affection, mutual confidence and trust, and a feeling of belonging. Instead of talking to nag, scold, preach, and correct, utilize talking to maintain a friendly relationship. Speak to your child with the same respect and consideration that you would express to a good friend.”

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