Alfred Adler Institutes of San Francisco and Northwestern Washington

Dealing Effectively
With Children's Mistaken Goals

By Henry T. Stein, Ph.D. (Revised 1-15-2000)

This material is protected by copyright and may not be reproduced or distributed without the expressed consent of Dr. Stein.

The following charts are from the handouts included in the Alfred Adler Institute of San Francisco's Distance Training Program, Course DT304: Classical Adlerian Child and Family Therapy.

Alfred Adler's original ideas about children's goal-directed behavior were subsequently popularized by Erwin Wexberg, Rudolf Dreikurs, and Vicki Soltz. Simplifications of Adler's ideas are now commonly included in most Adlerian parent education publications and programs. Although many parents have benefited from reading child guidance books, it is easy to gain an erroneous impression of a "quick and easy" technology that can be applied systematically. Guiding a misbehaving child away from a mistaken direction, not only requires insight, patience, and skillful encouragement, it may also require some parents to change their fundamental views of life, atttudes toward other people, and their feelings about themselves and their children. These charts, reflecting an extension of Adler's concepts, were devised to be used by counselors and psychotherapists in the context of an Adlerian family therapy process.

Children who have goals of cooperation, contribution, and belonging will, with proper guidance, discover behavior that is appropriate to the needs of others in a situation. Such children will take initiative, complete tasks, do their part, share, and help others. Their spontaneous cooperation, considerateness, and generosity generally elicit feelings of appreciation from adults. Misbehaving children, who may be discouraged or spoiled, act egocentrically until enlightened adults win their cooperation with love and logic.

Dealing Effectively With Children's Mistaken Goals - Chart I

CHILD'S GOAL AND PRIVATE LOGIC CHILD'S BEHAVIOR CLUES ADULT'S FEELINGS AND REACTIONS CHILD'S RESPONSE TO ADULT'S REACTION DEMOCRATIC ADULT ACTION STRATEGY
UNDUE ATTENTION
"I will not be overlooked. I demand special attention. You must stay busy with me."
Interrupts, excessive pleasing, noisy, restless, shows off, clowning, cute, "hyperactive", constant questioning, bad habits, pretended homework difficulties, minor mischief. You feel annoyed, and think of the child as a nuisance who constantly interrupts your activities or takes up too much of your time unjustifiably. You may give in for a while, but gradually become impatient and scold the child. If you make requests or demands, child usually stops--but only for a short time, then repeats behavior. Ignore attention-getting activity.Give no reinforcement for negative behavior. Provide child with opportunities for positive attention. Only action helps, not words. Child needs to learn to feel good from accomplishment and contribution.
UNDUE SYMPATHY AND SERVICE
"You must feel sorry for my distress and grant me special service."
Child frequently tearful and anxious, can whine and accuse others of picking on them. Child's expectations or demands during an illness seem excessive. You may initially feel sympathetic and have the impulse to rescue, but eventually you begin to feel burdened and irritated. If you refuse to sympathize or serve, or criticize, the tears and whining usually increase in intensity Offer inital empathy ("I'm sorry you feel bad") but gradually shift to questioning the child about what can be done to help deal with the distress or prevent it.
POWER
"You are not the boss over me. I will defeat you and do as I please."
Aggressive, rebellious, insolent, refuses to do chores, lies, disobeys, uses temper, tries to give orders, pouts, cries when the child can't have his/her way (water power). You feel angry, defeated, and frustrated. You may feel that your authority is being challenged or threatened, and try to enforce it progressively. If you attempt to assert your authority, misbehavior continues -- may even become worse. Withdraw from power struggle. Set firm limits and take action without getting angry. You can choose your own course of action, and so can the child!



Dealing Effectively With Children's Mistaken Goals - Chart II

CHILD'S GOAL & PRIVATE LOGIC CHILD'S BEHAVIOR CLUES ADULT'S FEELINGS AND REACTIONS CHILD'S RESPONSE TO ADULT'S REACTION DEMOCRATIC ADULT ACTION STRATEGY
REVENGE
"You hurt me and don't care about me. I will hurt you back where you are vulnerable."
Violent, sullen. Verbal or physical hurting of adults, peers, animals, or self. You feel hurt.May regard child as mean, nasty, or evil, and want to hurt the child back. If you lash out at child, he/she switches to an even more violent attack -- seeks to retaliate. This cycle may escalate dangerously if child and adult are stubborn. Do not take attack personally or feel hurt. Try to be friendly and empathic. Find out what is bothering the child. Let the child express upset with words. Make child feel safe. Offer safe vehicle for acting out aggression. Seek professional help.
SOCIAL WITHDRAWAL
"I can't win. I want to be left alone. Don't bother me."
Does nothing or very little. If attempts something, gives up easily. Isolates self from others. Not a disruptive behavior problem. You feel helpless, like giving up. "What can I do with him/her?" May think of child as a dreamer or stupid. No response. Do not give up.Maintain faith in child. Try to arrange small successes that will encourage him/her. Seek professional help if no improvement.
ESCAPE FROM REALITY
"I must retreat into fantasy and away from an unacceptable reality."
Unresponsive, deeply depressed, sleeps most of the time, bizarre actions, irrational fears, hurts self, refusal to eat, alcohol/drug abuse. You are frightened or in despair. Contact with child is almost absent. No response, or irrational responses. Seek professional help immediately.

For additional information about democratic parenting, read:

1. Adlerian Child Guidance Principles.

2. Impact of Parenting Styles on Children

3. Adult Consequences of Childhood Parenting Styles



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