Ack! Kids got you pulling your hair out? Do you feel like you are at the end of your rope? Feeling hopeless or helpless? Why is my child doing that and acting out?
We parent as we were parented, or parent in reaction to how we were parented, and sometimes, neither approach works. Traditional parenting uses rewards and punishments, believes that rewards and punishments motivate children, and even when done from a place of love, focus on controlling the child.
Rewards and punishments work, but they are extrinsically motivated, they are a quick fix rather than long-term teaching and training. Punishments often lead to resentment, rebellion, revenge, or retreat (PDA 2012). A child may do what you say, but you may lose some connection with them, they may “get back” at you by doing another annoying behavior, they may lash out verbally, or they may hide things from you in the future.
That may have stopped the acting out but didn’t fix the real problem.
What’s going on underneath? Why do children do what they do? What motivates them? Children desire to belong and feel significant. They want to belong, and they want to feel important (just like us).
Children create and hold Beliefs about what it means to belong and feel significant. I am part of my family when I feel important when my mom does this; I feel important to my Dad when he tells me that. They essentially question, what is my role, how do I fit in, and what makes me special. These are complex and unconditional thoughts, feelings and decisions that children are making sometimes on a moment-to-moment basis.
Children act based on the desire to belong and feel significant, in combination with their personal set of beliefs.
I like to think of a child’s personal set of beliefs as their science experiment. They are testing out an unconscious hypothesis about themselves with you, with their siblings, with their friends, their cousins, the neighbor down the street, with just about everyone, everywhere, all the time.
Children can develop and test out mistaken beliefs about what it means to belong and be significant with you, their parents, teachers, friends, the clerk at the store, the mailperson, a stranger on the street, just about anyone and everyone.
Behaviors that come from those mistaken beliefs are those acting out behaviors.
- Parenting is tough.
- Parenting is work.
- Most of us learned through observation only.
- We all are experiencing the ultimate on-the-job training.
But, we can always learn more ways of relating to our children that support us in creating more fulfilling, more loving, more connected relationships with them, and the days of acting out will cease.
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Catherine Gruener, LCPC, NCC, DCC, PDTC. Catherine is a multi-certified and licensed clinical professional counselor, nationally and internationally known for her parent training programs. She is the owner of Gruener Consulting and the Chief Executive Officer of the Encouragement Parenting Division.