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Listen, Look for the Message, and Determine Your Child's Needs

Proactive listening is one way of figuring out what is going on with your child. Another way is to look at your family dynamics. What has been happening between you and your child? Between your child and the rest of the family? Between you and your partner and other family members? Family tensions frequently manifest in misbehavior. (It's become almost a cliché for teachers to ask parents, “Is there anything happening at home?” whenever a child misbehaves. It's a cliché based on reality, though.)

Look for the Message Behind the Action

As you seek to understand your child, it's important to look a little deeper, at your child's underlying motivations. As you go through the process of responding to misbehavior, think about the incident and what it might mean to and about your child. Psychiatrist Rudolf Dreikurs developed an important theory of child development based on his belief that a child who is misbehaving is discouraged, and believes both that he lacks significance and that he doesn't truly belong. Of course, this may be the child's perception, but hey, it's the perception that matters.

The Four Mistaken Goals of Misbehavior

Jane Nelson, author of many wonderful books on positive discipline, has taken Dreikurs's discovery that a child's misbehavior is based on one of four mistaken goals: undue attention, power, revenge, and giving up, and created a powerful tool for responding effectively. Nelson writes that all misbehavior is a child's method of saying, “I am a child, and I want to belong.”

Here's an adapted version of Jane Nelson's tool for understanding and responding to misbehavior. As you look carefully at your child's misbehavior, apply it to the categories below to figure out which “goal” your child is trying to achieve.

Behave Yourself!

Ever catch yourself growling, “Do you need a spanking, young man?” If so, consider what your kid might really need: attention? affection? independence? nurturing? limits? privacy? responsibility?

Child's Mistaken Goal: Undue Attention

If your child is acting out or bugging you for undue attention, she's saying, “Notice me! Involve me in your life!” The methods she's choosing, however, are more likely to make you feel annoyed, worried, and guilty. You may find yourself coaxing your child, or simply doing things for her that she can do herself.

The child seeking undue attention only believes she belongs and is important when she's being noticed, or getting special attention.

She needs to be noticed and involved. Help her by giving her assurance and immediate redirection. Give her useful tasks, tell her you love her but you're busy and set up a special time with her (and keep it!). Touch her without words to show her you love her but can't be distracted. Be firm.


Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to a Well-Behaved Child © 1999 by Ericka Lutz. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit Amazon's web site or call 1-800-253-6476.

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