Goals of Misbehaviour Part 4: Inadequacy
This month wraps up our four month series of trying to answer that nagging question, “Why do kids do that?” Having looked at the “goals” of gaining attention, power, and revenge, our final goal of misbehaviour is an exasperating and alarming one: inadequacy.
We’ve all had to deal with a child who says, “Mom, I can’t zip my coat up” or “Dad, I need you to do it for me”. Is this automatically a display of inadequacy? Not necessarily. Sometimes this is just a stall tactic, or a bid for attention. As we’ve discussed over the past few months, the first way to asses what the child’s goal is, is to think about our response to their behaviour. Remember, if we feel annoyed, irritated, or guilty, our kid’s looking for attention. The thing is, while a kid who is looking for attention appears inadequate, she actually takes great pleasure when you pay attention to her – but a child operating from inadequacy actually wants to be left alone…or the exact opposite of your attention.
Here’s how a goal of inadequacy might make you feel: despairing, helpless in the face of your child’s lack of ability or willingness to try, hopelessness that she’ll ever come around and just try to do it on her own, and a sense of your own inadequacy as a parent. It’s a very different sensation than wanting to scream because your kids just won’t get their boots on without constant supervision and guidance.
This goal is all about a child’s own feeling of discouragement. “I won’t do it right anyway, so there’s no point in trying.” It can also come from feeling a lack of connection to others or a lack of belonging. “I don’t fit in, so I’ll teach others not to have demands of me, and then they’ll leave me alone.” That is the overriding goal of a child who is coming from a place of inadequacy: he wants to be left alone.
This leads to a sense of passivity and a “Whatever” attitude, hoping that you’ll buy into their notion of not having anything of value to contribute, and eventually just give up yourself.
It’s important not to do that. Begin by breaking down tasks into the smallest components possible, then take the time to teach each step in a way that allows your child to experience a feeling of success, regardless of how small. Or figure out something your child can already do, and give her plenty of opportunities to do it and share her talent with others.
Be careful not to do too much for him. This can sometimes lead to a confirmation of your child’s mistaken notion: “I really can’t do it, and that’s why Mom has to do it for me.”
Recognize and encourage any step in the right direction, even if it isn’t a big one. We want our kids to learn that success comes from taking many small steps, not from getting it all perfect right out of the gate. Focus on acknowledging specific actions your child did well: “There you go! Once I got the sock on over your toes, you were able to pull it up the rest of the way all by yourself. Well done!” While it may seem basic to use this kind of language with your kids, it helps to counteract the natural human tendency to focus only on the negative (raise your hand if you’ve ever been a victim yourself). This allows them to see that they are able to do some of the steps themselves, and eventually, it builds confidence that they will be able to master all of the steps.
And as always, that special one-on-one time goes a long, long way to promoting healthy self esteem and a sense of competence in our kids. Fun time together is always a great place to start.
I hope this has given you a framework within which to understand your children’s behaviour. When in doubt, go back to how you’re feeling and start from there. Soon enough, these goals will become second nature to you, and an essential part to understanding why our kids do what they do.