Goals Of Misbehaviour Part 3: Revenge
The good news is that we are well on our way to understanding what is driving our kids’ behaviour. We’ve talked about the first two goals of misbehaviour, getting attention and getting power, and this month we’ll talk about a hurtful and hard-to-get-over goal: revenge.
We may not think of our kids as being vengeful, and generally speaking they may not be, but sometimes things happen in their lives that prompt them to handle their disappointment and frustration by lashing out at the person who has hurt them.
How can you tell that you’re caught in a revenge cycle with your child? Well, first of all, consider your reaction to your little angel’s behaviour. Do you feel hurt, disappointed, disgusted, disbelieving or shocked? And when you respond, does your child react by retaliating, getting even, or escalating the behaviour? If you do, then you’ve got revenge.
Revenge develops from the escalation of a power struggle. As we struggle to exert our dominance over each other, a pattern of retaliation can develop. And it’s sparked by the child’s feeling of being hurt and perhaps of not belonging, then deciding that the best thing to do is to hurt others as she has been hurt. Kids cover up feelings of hurt and powerlessness by seeking revenge, which gives them a sense of control.
First of all, withdraw from the cycle by avoiding retaliation. Someone has to make the first move in breaking the chain; as the parent, it will almost assuredly be you (as it should – we want to model healthy, respectful behaviours, not how to sulk and wait for someone else to take care of us and our feelings). Take some time to cool down, but try to stay friendly, if you can. If you can’t, just go off somewhere yourself and let the steam dissipate from your ears before tackling the situation.
Kids caught in a revenge cycle are in desperate need of encouragement. Ironically, this need comes at just the moment when we are least likely to be able to give it. It’s hard to love and comfort someone who has just hit us where it hurts. But if we want this cycle to stop, that’s exactly what we need to do.
If the goal of revenge always covers hurt feelings, then getting to the root of those feelings is going to be our fastest and most effective way to get out of vengeful behaviour. Be empathetic, validate their feelings, and use emotional honesty in telling them how you feel. Try the formula: I feel ________ when ________ because __________. If you want, you can also add on a request such as …and I wish ______.
Try using reflective listening with your kids. Reflect back what you hear them say, reading between the lines if necessary, and take it even further by getting curious about what they’re going through and asking “curiosity” questions. Questions like “can you tell me more? Then what happened? How did that make you feel?” are straightforward, work with all age groups, and help you get to the heart of your child’s problem.
Don’t hesitate to offer a genuine apology if you caused or contributed to the hurt. It sets a good example of taking responsibility for our own actions, and of what constitutes a meaningful apology. Share a one-to-one problem solving session to determine where to go from here, keeping the focus on cooperation and contribution, not blame and punishment. Punishing your child for vengeful behaviour only reaffirms our children’s notion that they are unlovable and bad, and that nobody really understands them or cares.
Spending special one-on-one time with your kids is an antidote to all of these behaviours, so use it liberally! Your kids thrive on your attention and love, and the need to connect with you in unhealthy and disruptive ways will decrease when they realize how great it feels to get your positive and loving attention. Which will come in handy next month when we talk about our final goal: inadequacy.