I’ve shared the following from time to time over the years. The ideas that are expressed have been on my mind during recent weeks, and I believe it is worthy of posting again. So, the answer to the question is yes, at times, it is quite normal to experience these feelings in response to the actions and behavior of children of all ages. However, it has been my experience that parents and teachers often choose not to talk about this, worrying that admitting these feelings might cause others to assume some weakness, ineffectiveness, or incompetence on their part.
When identified and recognized, the feelings of irritation, anger, hurt, and hopelessness, are important diagnostic tools for teachers and parents. Based upon the work of noted psychologists Dr. Rudolf Dreikurs and Dr. Alfred Adler, a connection can be drawn between these normal and understandable reactions and the basic needs of all children. Dr. Betty Lou, who wrote and taught about the work of Dreikurs and Adler and this connection, describes these basic needs as “the Crucial Cs: the beliefs that one is CONNECTED to others, a part of family and community; CAPABLE of taking care of oneself, and is valued by others; has the knowledge that one COUNTS and makes a difference; and has the COURAGE needed to meet life’s challenges.”
Being self-aware and honest about our feelings and reactions to others can help us to better understand which “Crucial C” the child needs, the root of their behavior, and what steps to take to help them realize positive progress towards connecting, feeling capable, experiencing self-worth, and/or finding their place in the world.
The key is to be self-aware and conscious of the choice about whether or not to express them. The opportunity is to use one’s emotional intelligence as an indicator of what is going on and what to do to help a child turn a misguided goal for attention, power, justice, or courage towards efforts and successes that promote positive relationships, feelings of capability, their ability to see themselves making a difference, and the strength to embrace life’s challenges.
What often happens when a parent or teacher is not paying attention to their own feelings and thinking analytically about what they are experiencing is that they reactively express the negative feelings (irritation, anger, hurt, and hopelessness). This can often heighten tensions in the relationship and exacerbate problems. It bolsters the child’s negative self-image. It provides a response to the misguided goal that feeds the basic needs of the child in an unsatisfying manner while reinforcing the undesirable behavior. And, it has the potential to make matters worse, fueling a progression through a complex series of responses and provoking additional negative behaviors.
The following chart outlines these principles and the steps to be considered:
| The child is saying “I WANT TO CONNECT”
Seeking ATTENTION (you feel irritated) Steps: Minimize attention to misbehavior; Notice positive contributions; Act before there is a problem; Act, don’t escalate – be clear about expectations and consequences; Redirect towards
| The child is saying “I WANT TO BE CAPABLE”
Seeking POWER (you feel anger)
Steps: Look at what you can do differently; Focus on behavior not on the child – avoid “you” statements; Don’t escalate – self time-out; Give real responsibilities; Set expectations and consequences with the child’s involvement; Move towards
| The child is saying “I WANT TO COUNT”
Seeking REVENGE (you feel hurt)
Steps: Make a list of positives-reframe the person; Refuse to retaliate, escalate, or humiliate (be responsible); Allow cooling off period-help make it happen; Offer chances to help others; Move towards a feeling of
JUSTICE (we both count)
| The child is saying “BELIEVE IN ME!”
Seeking AVOIDANCE (you feel hopelessness) Steps: Make mistakes a learning experience – be human; Create successful situations – break things down, deal with anxiety; Recognize any effort towards positive; Don’t give up; Believe in them; Move towards
If interested, here is some more information about Dreikurs and Adler:
“Dr. Rudolf Dreikurs was an American psychiatrist and educator who developed Dr. Alfred Adler‘s system of individual psychology into a pragmatic method for understanding the purposes of misbehavior in children and for stimulating cooperative behavior without punishment or reward. He described four “mistaken goals” that such children would resort to, and outlined the most effective ways teachers and parents can respond. He saw the family as the first social setting in which education takes place, with the school environment as an extension of the family. Thus, his techniques for preventing misbehavior and encouraging appropriate behavior could be applied equally in both settings.
Dreikurs believed that ‘all behavior has a purpose.’ He constructed what is often considered the most effective tool in helping to understand children’s behavior: The Four Goals of Misbehavior and the techniques of effectively revealing these to a misbehaving child. The development of the system of natural and logical consequences, and the application of these techniques, may well be Dreikurs’ finest contribution to the betterment of human society.
Dreikurs suggested that human misbehavior is the result of not having one’s basic need of belonging to, and contributing to, a social group. The child then resorts to one of four mistaken goals: Attention, power, revenge, and avoidance of failure. He reasoned that students will “act out” based on these four, principled “mistaken goals.” The first reason for their misbehavior is that they desire attention. If they do not receive the attention they crave through their actions (good or bad, e.g. doing well on a paper or throwing a tantrum), they move onto seeking power (e.g. they may refuse to complete a paper). If their power struggle is thwarted, they seek revenge. If even revenge does not achieve the desired response, they begin to feel inadequate. His books list many ways to combat these behaviors. The first step is for teachers and parents to identify the mistaken goal, noting their own response to the misbehavior, and observe the student’s reactions. Secondly, a teacher or parent should confront the mistaken goal by providing an explanation of it, together with a discussion of the faulty logic involved. By doing so, students are given an opportunity to examine and change their behavior. Thirdly, Dreikurs emphasized the importance of avoiding power struggles with children. One way is simply by withdrawing as an authority figure; teachers and parents can also redirect students’ ambitions for power by having them participate in making decisions or giving directions. This was called “democratic teaching.” Dreikurs also recommended taking positive steps against revenge-seeking behavior. The teacher and parent are instructed to set up situations where the students can exhibit talents and strengths and ultimately experience acceptance. Lastly, teachers and parents should encourage students who display inadequacy, by offering these students encouragement and support for even minimal efforts. His overall goal was that students would learn to cooperate reasonably, without being penalized or rewarded, because they would feel that they are valuable contributors to the classroom.
Dreikurs described two types of consequences: Logical and natural. Logical consequences referred to “reasonable results that follow behavior either desirable or non-desirable.” They typically require students to make right of what they have done wrong. For example, if students do not complete their work during class, they are required to do it for homework. In a democratic classroom, the students would know in advance the consequences of their misbehavior because as part of the classroom they helped formulate the consequences. Natural consequences differ from logical consequences in that the results following the behavior occur naturally. For example, if a student tips his chair backward and falls, leaving him hurt or embarrassed would be a natural consequence, because the hurt and embarrassment alone are sufficient consequences for his misbehavior.
Dreikurs did not consider punishment an effective method of discipline. He viewed punishment as an action taken by the teacher or parent as an act of revenge and to show the students who is in charge. He believed that punishment was humiliating and offensive to students. Dreikurs believed in prevention, and his main focus was on constructive behavior rather than coercive discipline. He recommended that teachers have a democratic classroom and teaching style, in order to help students gain a sense of belonging (genuine goal). In this manner students would have a social interest: A condition in which students would realize themselves that it is to their advantage to contribute to the welfare of a group. Therefore, to understand children, they must be observed in a social setting, in relationship to others, to discover the reasons for their behavior.”
(source – newworldencyclopedia.org)