Children who misbehave usually do so for a purpose, taught U.S. psychiatrist and educator Rudolf Dreikurs. Misbehaving children and teens are acting out a feeling or need that they are unable to convey or express. Such a need might be: a need for attention when s/he is feeling ignored or neglected; a resentment over being controlled; a fear that s/he is not loved or lovable; or a feeling of inadequacy or helplessness.
Only when the teen’s maladaptive behavior is understood in this light, can you, as a parent, help him/her find more constructive ways to communicate unmet needs or unexpressed feelings. When motivation shifts from punishing maladaptive behavior to understanding what motivates it, healthier lines of communication are opened and alternatives can be explored.
Ask your teen to help you understand what happened. Ask him what the behavior or incident meant to him. What were his options and choices, and why did he make that particular choice? What were the ramifications of those choices? How does he feel about the consequences? Let him speak uninterrupted, without your corrections, opinions, and commentaries.
Only then, share — VERY BRIEFLY — your thoughts around the incident. Remember:
- Remove yourself from power struggles and from the compulsion to get your teen to agree to your view or perception.
- State your truth quietly and simply; force and aggression will only invite resistance.
- Let your teen experience the consequences of the misbehavior. Do not over-protect.
- Don’t try to get even. Try to perceive your teen as feeling hurt or misunderstood, and not knowing how to ask for help.
- Don’t focus on your teen’s inadequacies; criticism will only discourage him. Focus on positive efforts.
The more you work towards a relationship based on mutual respect, cooperation, responsibility and self-reliance, the more quickly the negative behaviors will disappear.