It’s hard to find a catchy title for an article about child-rearing, and many parenting books can put you to sleep before you finish the prologue. That’s probably because the best parenting books are simply about common sense ways to manage misbehaving children.
After some time in the Parent & Child section of the local Barnes and Noble bookstore I was surprised at the number and variety of books on how to raise children, considering the birth rate has been stagnating for years. Titles with words like ‘spirited’ or ‘strong willed’ seem to sell better than those by my favorites like Alfred Adler, Rudolph Dreikurs and Chaim Ginott, one of their protégés who wrote the best-selling book How to Talk So Kids Will Listen.
In all the choices available, you likely won’t do better than a careful reading of Children: the Challenge by Rudolph Dreikurs.
The writing is clear and straightforward, and even uses the word ‘discipline’, apparently a no-no in contemporary parenting literature, and the term ‘logical consequences’ which simply means that any ‘discipline’ should be logically connected to the misbehaviour that must be stopped.
Keep in mind that your job is to raise a child to become an adult who is a responsible member of society whatever their choice of career or lifestyle. Learning self-discipline and personal responsibility are essential parts of this growth for the child. That means that you may have to sometimes choose between being a good parent, or being considered ‘cool’ by the child and his/her friends.
If you want to be a good parent, most of what you need to know is in this article. Read on.
What if you feel annoyed, angry, bullied or impatient with your child? What do those feelings mean and what are your child’s motivations behind that behaviour?
To become a good parent, you have to hold onto yourself when your child is being difficult. A good parent can tolerate a child’s temper tantrum without getting roped in, or having to control it or stop it (unless you are in a public place). You just need to show your child that you are quietly there and will still be there when the melt-down is over.
If your child becomes physical you need to be able to tell your child quietly that “Mommy is not for hitting,” hold his hand firmly and look into his eyes like you mean it. If your child continues to hit you, you need to tell her that if she doesn’t stop hitting, she will have to go to her room alone or stay alone in another room until she stops and can behave better.
These are examples of a logical consequence – the misbehavior is logically connected to the ‘discipline.’ Children are social beings and their behavior is goal oriented. If they behave badly, the logical consequence in the above example is social isolation, at least until they are able to behave in socially acceptable ways.
Children actually want to be approved of, to belong and to feel important. Your job is to show them how to achieve those goals.
The Four Goals of Misbehavior
Dreikurs viewed children’s behavior as goal-oriented. Parents need to encourage positive goals and discourage negative goals.
Children are very alert observers but they can come to mistaken conclusions about what they are observing. Misinterpretations of their parents’ behavior can lead them to their own misbehaviour.
The reasons for children’s misbehaviour can be understood by observing the goal they are trying to obtain.
Children need and want attention. However, seeking attention all the time or having to be the center of attention will lead to behavior that keeps parents overly busy with them or having to give them special treatment.
When parents feel annoyed, worried or guilty these feelings are clues to the child’s own goal of attention seeking. The parents’ job is to help the child recognize that attention will be available sometimes, but not all the time. Parents need to train the child to know how to seek attention, and that sometimes it’s the right time to receive attention and sometimes it’s not.
Some children want to be the boss. Parents should validate the child’s wish to be the boss, but must let them know that the parents are in charge. Children need to listen to their parents.
Children with the goal of power may also want to be the boss of their parents, their siblings and their friends. This goal is not socially responsible, and it will often result in other children rejecting them.
The parent’s job is to help the child deal with the reality that a child cannot be in charge of his parents. When parents feel provoked, angry, intimidated, or bullied by this behaviour, these are signs of the child’s goal of seeking power over them.
Sometimes children will use helplessness as a way to get their parents to do things them that they are fully capable of doing themselves.
When parents feel impatient with this behaviour, this feeling is a clue to the child’s goal of getting parents to do things for him, to service him. Children have to learn to do things for themselves and to do their share. Pretended helplessness is a warning that the child is developing dependent behaviors. It may also be a way of gaining attention. The parents’ job is to encourage greater independence as the child develops.
Children who feel they can never win or feel they have been hurt may want to get even or get back at others.
When parents feel hurt, rejected or disgusted by this behaviour, these feelings are negative feedback clues to the child’s goal of revenge. Telling their parents “I hate you” is a way of getting revenge. The parents’ role is to remain impassive when children are trying to be mean to them. Ignoring or calmly replying that saying I hate you is just a way of getting even – because they can’t have a cookie before dinner, for example – shows the child that you can remain neutral and can handle their revenge without having to retaliate yourselves.
Each child is born with a genetically inherited temperament. Some children are naturally shy and quiet; others are talkative and rambunctious, while others are inquisitive and ask lots of questions. These tendencies will unfold into their unique personalities as they grow up.
A parents’ job is to accept the child for who they are. To understand and accept the child’s innate temperament directs the parent on how to encourage them to find their particular way of seeing the world.
Real life application
Sometimes parents want to see a psychologist to talk about a problem child and that is why Derek and Ann were in my office. Their seven year-old daughter Tanya was doing well at school, had lots of friends, and was a really great kid. The only issue was the daily power struggle over clothes. Ann wanted her daughter to wear nicer clothes to school and Derek agreed with Ann.
Tanya had other ideas. She liked to wear comfortable leggings and loose tops to school. Ann didn’t consider these clothes appropriate, so every morning they argued over which clothes Tanya would wear that day. Their voices would get louder and Tanya would end up crying, which would disturb Derek who had to get to work on time.
Derek and Ann wanted to know how to make their daughter listen to them. .
It was clear to me that Ann and Tanya were enmeshed in a power struggle. Tanya was strong-willed at home but there were no complaints about her from school or from friends. That meant to me that Tanya must be feeling that she could never win in a power struggle with her mom and was trying to assert her rights to feel comfortable in her clothes at school.
I recommended they back off from the power struggle and let their daughter choose her own clothes. In other words, to let her be responsible and self-determining, which are important parts of growing up.
Over the next few sessions, the parents reported that things were much better at home and there was peace and quiet in the mornings. Ann and Tanya had even gone shopping and bought several pairs of the clothing that Tanya preferred to wear. Ann was delighted one day when Tanya announced that she now wanted to wear nice dresses to school sometimes!
Having a neutral third party involved like a psychologist can help you understand what is going on behind the scenes, and provide guidance on how to have more balanced and beneficial relationships with your children.
Patients in this story are a fictional composite of people who have sought help for this issue. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead is purely coincidental.
Dr. Eva Fisher is an Ottawa psychologist who has been providing psychotherapy for a variety of issues for over 20 years. Follow her on Twitter @drevafisher, Facebook or Instagram @dr_evafisher. Blog writing assisted by freelance journalist Alyssa McMurtry.
Written by Dr. Eva Fisher C Psych
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