When kids don’t cooperate with you, it’s easy to take it personally as though they are against you. I call this response the “parent’s victim mentality.”
When you see yourself as a victim, you think your kids are acting against you-that you are the target of their behavior. You may think, “They are being disrespectful to me,” or “They’re trying to push my buttons.” It becomes all about you, rather than what your kids are thinking, feeling, or needing.
This viewpoint often puts children in control of your thoughts, feelings, and actions.
Here are common phrases that indicate you are stuck in a victim mentally. “You make me so …” or “If you would just …, then I would…” or even “I yelled because you …” These beliefs are not effective in creating greater family harmony.
Michael Popkin, Ph.D., offers a refreshing model of understanding children’s behavior by understanding the goals behind their behavior. Children are focused on meeting their needs, or goals, not on going against you. This model allows parents to step out of the stuck victim mentality. When you have a clearer perspective of why the behavior is happening, then you’ll have a greater ability to redirect negative behavior to positive behavior.
Understanding Behavior: Purpose Not Cause
In order to understand another person’s behavior, it is important to understand that humans are beings with free will who choose how to behave based on their experience, values, and goals for the future. So instead of asking your child, “Why did you do that?” ask yourself, “What is their goal?” “What is the ‘payoff’ their behavior is aimed at getting?”
Children have four goals, and teenagers through adults have an additional fifth goal. The five goals are: contact/belong, power, protection, withdrawal, and the additional teenage/adult goal of challenge.
The basic need of every human being is to belong, which is critical for survival. Out of this desire to belong, each of us develops the goal of making contact – physical or emotional –with other human beings. Contact with parents or primary caregivers helps the growing child develop a sense of belonging in the family. As teenagers start to look toward the future, they feel a stronger need to create connection with friends and other groups outside of the family.
Each of us wants to influence our environment and gain at least a measure of control over it. As parents, our challenge is to guide and protect children, while at the same time increasing the amount of power and control they have over their lives. It is a gradual transition from dependence to independence.
All people have a desire to protect themselves, both physically and emotionally. Your child’s need to protect their personal identity becomes a driving force as a teenager, which explains why they become angry when they are restricted. Some teenagers will do whatever they need to do to have their goals met. This includes lying to you. Be careful to not become the victim and view their lying as being disrespectful to you. Rather, it is a means to get what they want.
The development of one’s own identity leads most children to withdraw into their own space. They need time and privacy to sort out all the changes and understand their new world and their place in it. There are two exceptions to giving them their privacy: 1) if you suspect drug or alcohol use, and 2) if your child is depressed.
Challenge – Starts in the teen years
The desire to test her/his skill and courage against an obstacle is one way teenagers measure how well they are doing on their journey from dependence to independence. It is a natural part of growing up. Many create their own challenges by challenging you.
Each goal can be met with behavior judged as either negative or positive. Here are the five goals, the negative and positive actions to achieve each goal, and reactive emotions in you that help you determine your child’s goal.
|Child’s Goal||Positive Approach||Negative Approach||Your Feelings About the Child/Teen|
|challenge (teens and adults)||safe adventures||thrill seeking||afraid|
When you discover their goal, then you can offer opportunities for your children to meet their goals positively rather than you feeling helpless and confused.
Michael Popkin, Ph.D., is the author of the 5 Goals of Behavior. Copyright Active Parenting Publisher.
©2015 Cynthia Klein, Bridges 2 Understanding, is a Family Success Consultant. Cynthia presents her expertise through speaking and private parenting education sessions. She works with parents of 4 – 25 year-old children. Contact Cynthia at bridges2understa.wpstagecoach.com, cynthia@bridges2understanding,com, or 650. 679.8138.