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

The child seeking power is trying to say, “Let me help! Give me some choices!” If, however, anybody (including your child) is challenging you to a power struggle, you're gonna feel challenged, provoked, threatened, and possibly defeated. You may fight, find yourself thinking, “You won't get away with this one!”, want to make the child behave, or give in and feel cowed and powerless yourself. You'll probably react to the threat by wanting to be proven right.

The child seeking power believes he belongs only when he's in control. He's a kid on a mission: to prove that nobody can boss him around.

This child needs you to withdraw from head-to-head conflict, calm down, be the “adult,” let him help you with tasks, offer limited choices, and acknowledge that you can't control him (nor can he control you). This child needs limits set, and firmness around the limits—but do it kindly! Don't rise to the bait!

Child's Mistaken Goal: Revenge

A child seeking revenge is really trying to tell you, “I'm in pain! Help me, I'm hurting!” The child who has been hurt may try to retaliate or “get back” at you or others. You may feel disappointed, hurt, disbelieving, or even disgusted at the behavior. You may try to get back at the child—to retaliate yourself—or feel a loss of control and despair: “How could you do this to me?”

The child seeking revenge is hurting and doesn't believe she belongs, so she wants to make others feel like she does. She doesn't believe she is good, she doesn't believe anybody could like or love her. (She probably doesn't like or love herself.)

Your task: to avoid punishment and retaliation, to demonstrate understanding and empathy, to talk with your child about her hurt feelings, to apologize. Encourage her strengths. Allow her to voice her pain. Try not to take it personally.

It's a Good Idea!

At different times, the same kid might express different “mistaken goals of misbehavior.”

Child's Mistaken Goal: Giving Up

The child who gives up is saying, “Believe in me. Don't give up on me.” When a child gives up, quits, doesn't try, and moves passively through life, you may feel hopeless yourself, despairing, disappointed, and inadequate as a parent. You may react by doing everything for the child, expecting nothing, or expressing your disappointment.

The child whose mistaken goal is to give up doesn't believe he belongs, thinks he's hopeless and incapable, and does his best to convince everybody else of these “facts.”

You must show him your faith in him. Start small and take small steps. Show him how to do things. Encourage any effort. Encourage the progress. Be his ally, his champion, his cheerleader. Enjoy him and believe in him.


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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