Home . Radioshow . News Columns . Resources . Contact

The Taos News


can be heard discussing Positive Psychology here.


Understanding Why Children Misbehave

October 24, 2011

All children misbehave at one time or another, so it should be no surprise to us when they do. Nevertheless, at times we are at a loss as to how to respond in a way that will promote responsible behavior on the part of the child. Often we fall back on imitating our own parents, who often did the only thing they knew to do, which was to punish us. Punishment is authoritarian. It promotes fear in the child and does not enable them to learn to make better choices independently of us. When we understand what misbehavior is and what the goals of misbehavior are, we can more effectively intervene.

What is misbehavior? Misbehavior is actions or words that are disrespectful or ignore others’ rights. It may include a refusal to cooperate or behaviors that are dangerous to the child or others. When a child misbehaves, knowing the goals of their misbehavior enables us to determine the most effective intervention.

All children have a need to belong. Beliefs and feelings affect how a child decides to belong. If their beliefs about how to belong are faulty they will misbehave. The four areas in which their faulty beliefs develop are their bids for attention, power, and revenge, and in their displays of inadequacy. The flip sides of those faulty beliefs are positive ones that enable the child to grow and eventually become responsible and loving adults.

The wish to be involved is the other side of a child’s annoying insistence on attention. An unhealthy need for attention says, “I belong only by being noticed – even if that makes problems for others,” while the healthy wish for involvement says, “I want to be a part of things. Please help me learn to contribute.” We encourage involvement by helping children take part in the activities of daily family life.

Your child’s anger producing power struggles with you say, “I belong only by being the boss – even if that leads to a fight. If I can get someone to fight with me, I have power.” The positive side of a power struggle is the child’s need to be independent.  Children want to become independent. Giving them real choices will help them to learn to become responsible rather than forcing them into a power struggle.

You will know when your child is seeking revenge because you will feel hurt by their behavior. Their wish to get revenge is actually a communication that says, “I am not lovable. I belong only by hurting others. I want them to feel as hurt as I do.” The flip side of wanting to get revenge is the wish for fairness. When a child seeks revenge they are communicating “I want things to be fair. Please help me learn to cooperate.” We encourage fairness by being fair ourselves.

Displays of inadequacy are the fourth way children frequently misbehave. With these displays the child is saying, “I belong by convincing others that I can’t do things. In fact, when I try to do something and fail, I don’t belong.” What we want to do in these situations is to encourage their competency. A correct belief for a child who displays inadequacy is, “I need time to think by myself. I want to succeed. Please help me learn to trust myself.”

If we want to help children move from bids for attention to involvement, from power struggles to independence, from the need for revenge to fairness, and from displays of inadequacy to competence, we simply need to encourage the positive. We do this by helping children take part, giving choices, being fair and noticing and teaching courage. It’s as simple as that!


Home . Radioshow . News Columns . Resources . Contact