If I Have To Tell You One More Time and the mistaken goals of misbehavior.
a totally unrelated picture of Maggie dressing herself. in my leg warmers and her shoes.
I've talked already about how If I Have To Tell You... is so similar to How To Talk… Another wonderful book it reminded me of was Verbal Behavior Approach (reviewed here and here). This overlap is fantastic because VBA is full of practical ideas as well as an overall framework for understanding and responding to your children’s behaviors. VBA focuses on the goal of behavior and teaching kids a more effective way of communicating/reaching their goals. If I Have to Tell You... builds on those themes for the older/more verbal kids in your life. It reminds you to consider not just what your child is doing but what is the function of that misbehavior? How might you be unknowingly rewarding it? If I Have to Tell You... breaks down those functions into four themes. The author warns that these behaviors are progressive and if you don’t respond to one effectively, it could escalate into a more difficult behavior.
1. Undue attention
This is the most common misbehavior (and the foundation upon which later misbehavior is often built). Think of the statement, “she is just doing this to get attention.” The thing that has always killed me about this phrase is that most people (after rolling their eyes) proceed to ignore the behavior. Which is OK (great even) if you ignore the interrupting, clinging, whining, etc. behaviors and then work to provide your child with attention in more positive ways (scheduling quality, focused, one-on-one time, as described here). However, what most people do is ignore it until it escalates (which it likely will at first. And when you respond to the worse behavior instead, you essentially teach your child that the best way to get your attention is to act even worse!). Or, parents might ignore it, but not provide a better outlet for the child to get the attention that she wants (and needs and deserves. Remember: getting attention isn't the problem. It is the way your kid gets/you give attention that is the problem). Again, the outcome is that the behavior escalates. You can tell it is undue (i.e., inappropriately sought) attention because it will not be related to an immediate need (they are sick, hurt, actually helpless as opposed to acting like they are to get you to do something for them) and it will annoy you. Most parents will temporarily ignore then/or reprimand this behavior (stop whining!) and then cave to the request (OK, fine, just stop it with that whiny voice). So your kid feels better (a reward), but it isn't the kind of sustained attention he craves, so he will keep doing it. A lot. Because it works just enough. (and if you alternatively ignore and respond, the rewards are unpredictable and the behavior will become even more frequent…think slot machines).
This is usually what kids do when they are getting frustrated with the ineffective attention-getting cycle, or they need more autonomy than they have. It involves a lot of “No!” and “I don’t want to!” and back talk and tantrums and negotiations. It usually escalates into a power struggle. Hint: power struggles are one of those times where, even if you win, you lose. But generally, you just lose outright by behaving in ways you wouldn't want your kid to behave and not being able to compel the child to do what you want anyway.
After a prolonged feeling of powerlessness, kids often resort to inflicting physical or emotional pain. Think: slamming the door and yelling, “I hate you, Mom!” And it usually results in a punishment. Which, surprise!, makes things worse because the kid will feel worse about herself and even more powerless. And the cycle continues.
4. Assumed Inadequacy
When the revenge loses its appeal, that is when the withdrawn behavior kicks in. This looks a lot like the kid who sulks in their room a lot and speaks in apathetic, monosyllabic responses (fine, whatever, etc.) Stages three and four can happen to the best of families in the crazy period of adolescence. But when it becomes a pattern of behavior, the author recommends professional help.
Just knowing these frameworks for misbehavior is important for dealing with your kids. Luckily, If I Have to Tell You... also provides some really good strategies for responding to and preventing these misbehaviors. Which I will save for tomorrow, because seriously, this is already pretty freaking long.