Alfred Adler Institutes of San Francisco and Northwestern Washington

Adlerian Child Guidance Principles

(From "The ABC's of Guiding the Child," by Rudolf Dreikurs and Margaret Goldman.)

Also see "Classical Adlerian Guidelines for Educating the Child,"
and "Educating Children for Cooperation and Contribution - Volume II."
based on the original ideas of Anthony Bruck.


Mutual respect based on the assumption of equality, is the inalienable right of all human beings. Parents who show respect for the child--while winning his respect for them--teach the child to respect himself and others.

Encouragement implies faith in and respect for the child as he is. A child misbehaves usually when he is discouraged and believes he cannot succeed by useful means.

Feelings of "security" are highly subjective and not necessarily related to the actual situation. Real security cannot be found from the outside; it is only possible to achieve it through the experience and feeling of having overcome difficulties.

Reward and punishment are outdated. A child soon considers a reward his right and demands a reward for everything. He considers that punishment gives him the right to punish in turn, and the retaliation of children is usually more effective than the punishment inflicted by the parents. Children often retaliate by not eating, fighting, neglecting schoolwork, or otherwise misbehaving in ways that are the most disturbing to parents.

Natural and logical consequences are techniques which allow the child to experience the actual result of his own behavior.

  • Natural consequences are the direct result of the child's behavior.
  • Logical consequences are established by the parents, and are a direct and logical--not arbitrarily imposed -- consequence of the transgression.
  • Natural consequences are usually effective.
  • Logical consequences can only be applied if there is no power contest; otherwise they degenerate into punitive retaliation.

Acting instead of talking is more effective in conflict situations. Talking provides an opportunity for arguments in which the child can defeat the parent. If the parent maintains a calm, patient attitude, he can, through quiet action, accomplish positive results.

Withdrawal as an effective counteraction: Withdrawal (leaving the child and walking into another room) is most effective when the child demands undue attention or tries to involve you in a power contest. Often doing nothing effects wonderful results.

Withdrawal from the provocation but not from the child. Don't talk in moments of conflict. Give attention and recognition when children behave well, but not when they demand it with disturbing behavior. The less attention the child gets when he disturbs, the more he needs when he is cooperative. You may feel that anger helps get rid of your own tensions, but it does not teach the child what you think he should learn.

Don't interfere in children's fights. By allowing children to resolve their own conflicts they learn to get along better. Many fights are provoked to get the parent involved, and by separating the children or acting as judge we fall for their provocation, thereby stimulating them to fight more.

Fighting requires cooperation. We tend to consider cooperation as inherent in a positive relationship only. When children fight they are also cooperating in a mutual endeavor. Often the younger, weaker child provokes a fight so the parents will act against the older child. When two children fight, they are both participating and are equally responsible.

Take time for training and teaching the child essential skills and habits. Don't attempt to train a child in a moment of conflict or in company. The parent who "does not have time" for such training will have to spend more time correcting an untrained child.

Never do for a child what he can do for himself. A dependent child is a demanding child. Children become irresponsible only when we fail to give them opportunities to take on responsibility.

Overprotection pushes a child down. Parents may feel they are giving when they act for a child; actually they are taking away the child's right to learn and develop. Parents have an unrecognized prejudice against children; they assume children are incapable of acting responsibly. When parents begin to have faith that their children can behave in a responsible way, while allowing them to do so, the children will assume their own responsibilities.

Over-responsible parents often produce irresponsible children. Parents who take on the responsibility of the child by reminding or doing for him, encourage the child to be irresponsible. Parents must learn to "mind their own business" and let the child learn from the logical consequences of his own behavior.

Distinguish between positive and negative attention if you want to influence children's behavior. Feeling unable to gain positive attention, and regarding indifference as intolerable, children resort to activities which get them negative attention. Negative attention is the evidence that they have succeeded in accomplishing their goal.

Understand the child's goal. Every action of a child has a purpose. His basic aim is to have significance and his place in the group. A well-adjusted child has found his way toward social acceptance by cooperating with the requirements of the group and by making his own useful contribution to it. The misbehaving child is still trying, in a mistaken way, to feel important in his own world. For examples a young child who has never been allowed to dress himself (because "the parent is in a hurry"), who has not been allowed to help in the house ("you're not big enough to set the table"), may lack the feeling that he is a useful, contributing member of the family, and might feel important only when arousing a parent's anger and annoyance with misbehavior.

The four goals of misbehavior. The child is usually unaware of his goals. His behavior, though illogical to others, is consistent with his own interpretation of his place in the family group.

  • Attention-getting: he wants attention and service. We respond by feeling annoyed and that we need to remind and coax him.
  • Power: he wants to be the boss. We respond by feeling provoked and get into a power contest with him--"you can't get away with this!"
  • Revenge: he wants to hurt us. We respond by feeling deeply hurt-- I'll get even!"
  • Display of inadequacy: he wants to be left alone, with no demands made upon him. We respond by feeling despair--I don't know what to do!"
  • If your first impulse is to react in one of these four ways, you can be fairly sure you have discovered the goal of the child's misbehavior.

A child who wants to be powerful generally has a parent who also seeks power. One person cannot fight alone; when a parent learns to do nothing (by withdrawing, for example) during a power contest, she dissipates the child's power, and can begin to establish a healthier relationship with him. The use of power teaches children only that strong people get what they want.

No habit is maintained if it loses its purpose, its benefits. Children tend to develop "bad" habits when they derive the benefit of negative attention.

Minimize mistakes. Making mistakes is human. We must have the courage to be imperfect. The child is also imperfect. Don't make too much fuss and don't worry about his mistakes. Build on the positive, not on the negative.

A family council gives every member of the family a chance to express himself freely in all matters of both difficulty and pleasure pertaining to the family. The emphasis should be on "What we can do about the situation." Meet regularly at the same time each week. Rotate chairmen. Keep minutes. Have an equal vote for each member. Require a consensus, not a majority vote on each decision.

Have fun together and thereby help to develop a relationship based on enjoyment, mutual respect, love and affection, mutual confidence and trust, and a feeling of belonging. Instead of talking to nag, scold, preach, and correct, utilize talking to maintain a friendly relationship. Speak to your child with the same respect and consideration that you would express to a good friend.


Back to Adler Institute Home Page - http://www.Adlerian.us