Four Goals of Behavior

Misbehavior Goals

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 4 ways, you can be fairly sure you have discovered the goal of the child's misbehavior.

Power Behavior

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.

Bad Habits

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.

Family Council

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.

Communication with a Child

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.


Every adolescent is unique with special interests, likes and dislikes, however, there is a general series of developmental tasks that everyone faces during adolescent years. This development can be divided into three stages: early, middle, and late adolescence. There are feelings and behaviors for each stage of adolescence that parents might not recognize as "normal" and therefore be surprised and react poorly, so it can be helpful for parents to educate themselves so that they can respond more effectively and better prepare their children for adulthood.