Monday was family day and I hope everyone had a chance to do something a little special for your partner or children or parents or extended family. I typically just work with couples, but on reflection, who has the greatest influence on a child? Obviously, it is the parents. I would go on to say then, the best thing you can do for your family, your children, is to have a healthy relationship with your partner.
Parenting and Family
Given that, let me share a little about parenting. I don’t pretend to be an expert but before training, with Harville Hendrix, I received my Master’s in Counselling Psychology from the Alfred Adler Institute of Professional Psychology in Chicago. A key tenant of the Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler is found in his recognition of the importance of human society; he called it social interest and it starts with children and parenting.
Misbehaving Children’s 4 Primary Goals
Although children do many things, Adler suggested that children, who are misbehaving, really have four primary goals. They are
- REVENGE (to get back or get even)
- AVOIDANCE (the display of inadequacy)
And by the way, he believed that a child misbehaves because they are discouraged.
The challenge for parents is to identify which goal the child is aiming at in a negative way and to redirect the negative energy toward the child’s lifetime goal of developing social interest: the shift from attention to COOPERATION, from power to SELF-RELIANCE, from revenge to CONTRIBUTION and from avoidance to developing the COURAGE TO BE IMPERFECT.
The Child’s Goal
The clue to the child’s goal is what you (the parent) are feeling. If you feel irritated, annoyed, resentful or have the desire to pamper and spoil, the child’s goal is attention. The child often will stop what they are doing but then start again. If you feel angry, and challenged, you want to be right and win or you feel fear, you are in a power struggle with your child. On their side, the feelings tend to intensify. If you feel hurt, disgusted, disbelief, disappointed or feel sorry for and overprotect or want to punish and get back or get even, the child’s goal is revenge/payback (all obnoxious) and they retaliate.
And finally, as a parent, if you feel helpless or hopeless; you over-help or do for and worry, the child’s goal is avoidance because they feel inadequate and they tend to retreat even more. For any parents out there, I would highly recommend Rudolph Dreikurs’ book Children the Challenge. Dreikurs was a child psychiatrist who popularized Adler’s ideas in North America. He shares lots of examples and suggestions for dealing with each of the four goals.
I am going to go through the first of the goals, ATTENTION, more systematically and see if, how Adler and Dreikurs understand a child’s behaviour, makes sense to you.
When the child’s goal is attention:
- CHILD’S BELIEF – I only count when I’m being noticed.
- CHILD FEELS – insecure, alienated
- CHILD’S NEGATIVE GOAL – attention
- ADULT FEELS – irritated, annoyed
- ADULT’S IMPULSE – Remind – what again?
- CHILD’S RESPONSE TO CORRECTION – “temporarily” stops
Adler’s Philosophy of Life and Family
Now here is where Adler’s specific philosophy of life and his concept of social interest enters – a person’s capacity to give and take. His contention is that as humans, we desire to CONNECT, to know we are CAPABLE and that we COUNT; we have SELF-WORTH AND SELF ESTEEM. Given that, in the case of the child wanting undo attention, what the child really wants is to CONNECT. As a parent then, you want to use your influence, not lose it.
CONSTRUCTIVE ALTERNATIVES (for the parent) – Replace negative attention with positive attention. Ignore-leave. Say it once and act. Touch. Non-verbal signals. Decide what you will do, set up routines etc. Plan activities together – a special time, give full attention and contract. Don’t ignore the child; ignore the misbehaviour. Teach self-sufficiency.
The child then, in his or her turn, understands they do have a place; they feel connected and they learn to cooperate.
- CHILD’S BELIEF – I have a place
- CHILD FEELS – secure, belonging
- CHILD’S POSITIVE GOAL – COOPERATE.
As I said, I am not an expert on parenting, but I know, there is information out there that can be very helpful for parents. And just as I am biased towards Hendrix and Imago Relationship Therapy, I believe Adler’s ideas on parenting, education and counselling are brilliant although often not given the credit they deserve.