And the Answer to Truly Changing Behavior Is...

I love the idea of human beings being in constant motion toward belonging and significance.  This is an idea based on the work of Alfred Adler.  It is also the basis for all the principles of Positive Discipline.  The idea is that we, grown ups and kids alike, are hard wired for connection (belonging) and knowing that we matter (significance). 

This makes total sense. 

And sometimes things in our world change, and our sense of belonging and significance becomes shaken up - this can lead to some not so great behavior...


You’re in middle school and all your friends get together and you aren’t invited. 

What?  Why didn’t they call me?  They must not want me around…  Well, screw them, I don’t need them anyways!  And now my mom is knocking on my door, “Why can’t you just leave me alone?  I HATE YOU!”

You’re a preschooler and your parent is too busy on the computer or phone to spend time with you… 

My dad is always on the computer….  Why doesn’t he ever want to play with me?  Maybe if I keep asking him he’ll notice me.  Maybe if I'm fighting with my brother he’ll have to put his work away.  I know that he cares when he is interacting with me…

You’re 10 and have just spent time cleaning your room, only to have your mom point out all the things you missed...

She is so mean and doesn’t even realize how much time I spent on my room!!!  I’m so tired of her bossing me around…  Next time she asks me to do something, I am just going to say no.  She’s not the boss of me and I’ll show her!

Do any of the scenarios above sound familiar?  I bet they do…  The behavior we see from our kids is a reflection of their feelings and thoughts.  It is what they decide to do

If kids aren’t feeling a sense of belonging and significance they tend to act in ways that look less cooperative. 

“A misbehaving child is a discouraged child”
– Rudolf Dreikurs, Children the Challenge

A discouraged child is one who is feeling disconnected. 

A discouraged child feels as though what they do doesn’t matter.

So what does this mean for us?  Well, yes, the behavior our kids exhibit can be hurtful, obnoxious, even defiant.  It can get under our skin, and lead us to think that we need to do something about this kid!!!  We may feel embarrassed, angry, annoyed and that our kids aren’t going to get away with this behavior!

“Misbehavior is like weeds in the garden,
if we don’t pull up the root it will return again and again.”
-       Bonnie Harris, Confident Parents, Capable Kids

So guess what?  If we punish our kids, if we lecture, blame, shame them, and expect that they will learn from that, we are sorely mistaken. 

Punishment does not build connection.

Lectures and anger do not create a sense of significance.

Connection and meaning – this is what is missing when our kids are acting out.

So our work as parents is to remember this.  We need to create a practice of seeing  beyond the behavior that is driving us crazy, to the belief that lies underneath.

Have I taken time to connect with this child lately?  How can I fit some special time into our week?

Is this child feeling like they have control over their day? How can I offer more choices and hand over more control to them?

Why is my child hurting?  How can I validate their feelings and let them know that I see them hurting?

My child has given up and is withdrawn…  How can I show them small steps and remind them of past success?

The lovely result of seeing our children this way is that this is what actually changes behavior.  It creates belonging and significance for our children and their behavior returns to cooperative and connected.  And they’re a lot more fun to be around!

Try it.  See what happens.


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