My kid’s behavior is the problem! Why do I need therapy?
This is a common question that arises when parents enter the family therapy session. The simple reason is this: You are the tool for changing your child’s behavior. If you are like many parents you are implementing the strategies that your parents used to raise you. Some of those techniques were very effective and others were not so helpful. Most “behavior modification” strategies are missing the mark. We are not training circus animals or pigeons in B.F.Skinner’s laboratory. We are trying to reach the hearts of our children. If you’re like many parents might be frustrated because you have been trying so hard to get your child to move in the right direction. You are afraid they will fail in school, make bad life-altering decisions, choose the wrong friends, end up in jail, or not get into the right college. Operating from this fear perspective will bring stress into your relationship with your kids. They will not respond well to your guidance. When we shift our perspective from a fear based protective stance to a relational one where the goal is to reach the child’s heart we are well on our way towards effective parenting. We want to “teach our children well..” as the old folk song says. We want to help them develop their own internal positive guidance system so they can succeed in navigating the storms of life. Keeping the relationship at the center of our strategies will help us develop healthy successful children.
Now, Let’s look at what is motivating the surface behavior that is so difficult to deal with. All behavior is an action taken to meet a need. All “bad” behavior is also a method for meeting a need. Ask your self, “What is this child trying to communicate with this behavior?”. If we learn to look past the behavior to understand what that need is, then we can help our child get that need met in a healthy constructive way, rather than a destructive non-relational way. Trust-based relationships develop well-behaved children. Employing empathic parenting requires parents to develop skills and insight through the process of therapy. The child’s troubling behavior will cease if the need that motivated that behavior gets met in a healthy way. Implementing a change in our parental behavior will lead our children to victory over dysfunctional behavior.
OK, then “how do I do this” you might ask? Think about a time when you were a child and maybe you stole something. Now I know there is maybe a handful of super well-behaved people out there that never stole anything, ever, in their whole entire life. For you? I’ll have to find a different example. The rest of us stole something as a kid-right? I wonder what need you had that wasn’t being met or what message were you trying to convey when you stole that thing? Was the need for attention, for a sense of personal control, to be accepted by your peers, to fill a void, or to escape feeling something painful. Maybe you stole your mother’s pocket change because you really wanted to have some personal power to buy something for your self without having to ask for it. Maybe you stole earings from the mall because you wanted to impress your friend so you could find acceptance. You might have stolen food from the pantry and hid it in your room because you just did not trust that you would have enough when you felt hungry. You could be one of the kids that stole your parent’s vodka because your test anxiety was off the chart. What need were you trying to meet on your own? Understanding the language of needs will uncover the motivation for behavior.
Helping our children understand that they have needs and feelings and they are important to us will go a long way. If you believe that punishing bad behavior will stop bad behavior- think again. If I am the kid who steals for attention and you punish me then you are training me to meet my need for attention by stealing. Positive or negative- attention is attention. It is important to understand what motivated the behavior in order to empower your child to find healthy constructive ways to meet their needs. Stay off the common road of punishment and reward as a tool for correcting behavior. Gold stars do not motivate good behavior and they don’t develop good community-conscious citizens. Behavior is just that-behavior. I suggest a great book on this subject by Alfie Kohn entitled “Punished by rewards. If we learning to meet our children with empathy along their journey to adulthood will help them cultivate healthy perspectives and become self-controlled mature adults.
Nonviolent communication strategies designed by Marshal Rosenberg will develop a compassionate empathic connection with even the toughest of kids. Kids will not care what you know until they know you really care. You can learn more about this strategy with practice. I work with parents through role-playing and rehearsal to help them change their perspective away from behaviorism toward a more productive way of parenting that will enrich both the parent and the child’s life. The skills learned will impact all interactions in a positive way. You can pick up a copy of Marshal Rosenberg’s book entitled Nonviolent Communication: a language of life… to begin your journey. You can also watch his training videos on youtube. However, the best training takes place within the therapeutic relationship and the role-play rehearsal will provide you with the skills you need.
If you would like to see if we would be a good fit please reach out to me directly via text or call (941)320-5831. You are welcome to use the contact form under services tab for free consultation as well. I am here to help and look forward to working with you.