What kind of decisions are children making? They are thinking about:
- · Others: How do I feel about them? Are others helpful or hurtful? Do they like me?
- · Themselves: Am I good or bad? Am I enough? Am I capable?
- · The World: Is it safe to make mistakes? Is it possible for me to make a difference?
- · What They Need to Do: What is my work? What must I do, and what is my choice?
When children are seeking belonging and significance, without knowing how to achieve those appropriately, children will go about seeking acceptance in clunky manners. This kind of child might have temper tantrums or might move around disturbing others. Younger children will look for social significance from the adults in their lives, and older children will look for a sense of belonging among their peers. Beneath the surface concern of the misbehavior, there can even be a large iceberg of mistaken ideas in the sense of belonging and significance.
An answer to a child’s misunderstanding of ways to belong and be significant would be giving the child opportunities to develop social responsibility. When a child develops social responsibility and service, the child develops a community feeling and self-esteem—this leads to a sense of belonging and significance. This is where our connection comes in as teachers and guides in the school. You cannot give children enough trophies and prizes to give them the appropriate recognition, for contributing to the community. But in exhibiting social responsibility, they can develop the sense of self-recognition. Then, the need to misbehave will, many times, fall away.
How do we uncover why this child is feling so disconnected? How can we help her interact with others so that she can achieve a sense of community belonging and significance? The key will be a sense of equality. Here, this equality refers to children deserving equal dignity and respect to the adult. No, the child is still not driving many of the interactions, because the child does not have the ability to make so many appropriate decisions alone. The adult is still guiding interactions in a vertical relationship of parent to child, in most families—or they are in a permissive relationships where the child is given too much autonomy and not enough support for appropriate behaviors. This model would give a third option of a horizontal relationship of guidance and support, often even quite firm, but couched in the framework of equality between the adult and the child. We are both on a learning journey.
There are three principles of effective discipline:
- · All effective discipline teaches valuable social and life skills, and it will be effective long-term.
- · Effective discipline will also foster and environment where mistakes are seen as an opportunity to learn.
- · It will be kind and firm, and the same time, fostering a sense of belonging and significance. They will be able to predict the rules because of consistency, and it builds a sense of connection to the environment, to the other, and to the self.
We keep asking, “Why are children doing that?”, because we know that every behavior has a root cause. We can define four mistaken goals:
- · Undue Attention: This child wants to keep others busy and get special service. The adult tends to react by reminding, coaxing, and doing things the child could do for themselves. The child will often stop temporarily and quickly resume. The child is coding messages, “Notice me, involve me usefully.”
- · Misguided Power: This child wants to be the boss. The adult tends to respond by fighting, giving in, and attempting to make the child behave appropriately. The child will often intensify the behavior and feel that they have won when the adult is upset. The child may also look for passive ways to find power. The child is coding messages, “Let me help. Give me choices.”
- · Revenge: This child wants to get even. The adult rends to respond with disappointment, disbelief, and even disgust. The child may intensify retaliation and escalate, or else they will chose another weapon. The child is coding messages, “I’m hurting. Validate my feelings.”
- · To Give Up and Be Left Alone: This child operates from assumed inadequacy. The adult rends to respond by doing things for the child and over-helping the child. The child may show no improvement and in giving further retreat into inadequacy. The child is coding messages, “Show me a small step towards a goal. Please don’t give up on me entirely.”
Reflections following a talk by Chip DeLorenzo, M.Ed, AMS, “Breaking the Cycle—Uncovering the Roots of Misbehavior” from the American Montessori Society, Recorded Oct, 2016.