Change is not easy

'Change is not easy.' This is a statement that few would disagree with. Yet, the effort, endurance, and discipline required is so often under-estimated.


It may be that we wish change were easier, or that we had greater power to overcome the barriers.


Yet there is something that is so fundamentally comfortable, organizing, natural, and simple about habit. Across this board, this is true, from parenting, to diet, to coping with stress, etc. While we often know what we could do better, shifting habits to accommodate this requires CONSIDERABLE time, effort, and persistence.


It is estimated that 80-90% of our actions occur without our minds consciously thinking about it. If we had to actually 'consciously think' about everything that we attend and respond to in daily life, it would be stifling. Our brains are so smart by consolidating information into routines and expectations; in doing so, we don't have to re-invent the wheel at every turn, and as a result are capable of accomplishing so much more.


While this is so adaptive in so many ways, it is also what makes change so arduous. When we attempt to go about something differently, we have to think so much more. And sometimes this thinking is painful, as we reflect on why we do what we do. Often the initial steps are much less comfortable. Although we may start to see good things evolve, the pull is always there to return to what is innate and natural.


To embrace change is brave and worthy of admiration. This can bring about growth, and many good things. But it 'is not easy.' When you set out to make a positive change in your life, be patient and kind with yourself. Recognize the difficulty of what you are trying to do, at times of failure. When you find yourself inevitable falling back into old patterns, take steps to re-engage with your goal. And seek out help and support in the process - it is an invaluable part!   

Do as I….. Do!

We often demand kids, or family members, to behave a certain way without questioning our own actions.  This brings to mind the saying, “Do as I say, not as I do.”  Not sure if that every worked, but for certain that saying does not hold much merit with kids today.  We are constantly teaching others what to do by what we say and, more importantly, by what we choose to do. 

I can recall times I have yelled at my partner, “Don’t yell at me!”  This does not go over well, for understandable reasons.  I am making a request for him to not do something in which I am doing!  There are numerous ways we can send a mixed message to our children and family members and such messages often do little to bring about the change in behavior we are striving for.  The feet don’t lie! What we DO is more influential than what we say.

I invite you to explore how you may directly, or indirectly, say to your child or family member, “Do as I say, not as I do” and then work on that behavior yourself before requesting it of another.  You are a teacher in more ways than one and by SHOWING a shift in your behavior you are teaching others that change is possible.

Who is the crazy one here?

Most parents know intuitively that yelling at our kid doesn't help. So why do we do it anyways?

It could be any number of reasons from poor parenting when growing up to a tough day at the office. To be honest, does it matter?

Even if you know why you do something, it doesn't mean you won't do it. Just because I know junk food is bad for me, doesn't mean I won't always eat it--right? Insight is overrated.

Something different happens when you do something different. It could be as simple as a different action than yelling at your kid. How about a whisper? A German accent? Sing your response!

By introducing a different behavior you allow for the possibility for something different to occur. Now I can't promise it will always work, but I can promise this: if yelling really doesn't work, it won't work the next time you use it either.

Good parents demonstrate flexibility with their behavior so that they have a range of choices when their child misbehaves rather than the old standby--yelling.

Why Kids Are Like Plants: A Gardener’s Guide to the Misbehaving Child

Last week we learned the importance of encouragement in children’s lives.  Rudolf Dreikurs said: Children need encouragement like plants need water.  Just like a properly watered plant the encouraged child thrives, the discouraged withers.   This week (to continue the gardening metaphor) we’re going a little deeper into Dreikurs’ thoughts on children.  Back in the 1960’s Dreikurs held that most of children’s misbehavior could be explained by discouragement when their needs for belonging, safety and significance (i.e. self-worth) are not met.  He proposed analyzing children’s misbehavior from the perspective of four unconscious goals that arise from children’s mistaken beliefs about how to get what they want from their parents and teachers:


  1. Looking for attention;
  2. Engaging in power struggles;
  3. Seeking revenge; and
  4. Avoiding

Dreikurs & Stolz, Children The Challenge (1964)


Attention-Seekers - Children who want undue attention only feel significant when they are being noticed–they feel insecure, alienated and insignificant unless attention is focused on them.  Active attention-seekers will play the class clown or show off to get attention, whereas passive attention-seekers will “forget” things, need to be constantly reminded of chores or homework, and expect to be waited on.  Either way these children keep parents and teachers engaged with them all…the…TIME. 


Adults dealing with these children feel annoyed and irritated.  The impulse is to remind, coax, and nag.  Afterward the behavior will stop for a little while (or the child will do what is asked), but the reprieve is only temporary–as soon as the attention goes away the child wants it back.   The dilemma is that any attention to the annoying behavior itself is counter-productive in the long run.  It encourages such behavior because it teaches the child that this behavior gets attention–even if the attention is negative.


If you remember last week’s discussion of the Crucial C’s you have figured out that Attention-Seekers are looking for “connection.”  They feel insignificant they are saying: “Notice me!” and are willing to even accept negative attention as a form of connection.  The way to correct the behavior is to replace negative attention with positive attention.  Ignore negative, annoying behavior and lavish on positive encouraging attention.


Power-Strugglers – Children who engage in power struggles feel that their significance exists in showing adults that “you can’t make me” or “you can’t stop me.”  These children feel inadequate, dependent, and that others are in control of everything in their lives.


Adults engaged with these children feel challenged and angry.  The impulse will be to fight and to insist that the child “do as I say!”  The child’s reaction will almost always be to intensify the misbehavior because the child will feel even more powerless, more controlled, more dependent and inadequate in the presence of an authority figure that reacts this way.  Naturally this reaction from the child likely intensifies the adult’s reaction (“Now you are really going to do what I say!”) and the power struggle escalates, with each side upping the ante.


The Crucial C for power kids is a desire to feel “capable;” to learn self-reliance, competence, and self-control.  In the best-case scenario adults will step out of the power struggle before it starts giving the child a chance to feel capable and make choices about his or her environment as often as possible.  Children who are discouraged in this way need to be given lots of opportunity to feel competent and to show self-control, to make positive choices, to display power constructively.


Revenge-seekers - Children seeking revenge feel insignificant.  They feel that no one likes them, everyone is against them, and want to show others how it feels.  Their goal is to get back at others for making them feel this way, to get even because they have been hurt.


Adults dealing with children revenge-seekers may feel hurt or may feel the need to punish.  The adult’s impulse is to respond with: “How could you be so mean to your brother?” or “I’ll teach you to talk to me that way!”  This, of course, justifies the child’s belief about what the adult thinks and shows that the child has gotten through: “Ha! See how bad I am!”


Revenge-seekers Crucial C is “count.”  They want to know that they are not as insignificant as they think they are–that they have significance in a positive way.  In encouraging these kids avoid hurt feelings, maintain a sense of empathy, identify their positives and don’t give up on them.


Avoiders- Children who avoid are showing us their belief in their inadequacy.  They feel they can’t do anything right, so they won’t even try.  They feel inferior, useless and hopeless.  These are profoundly discouraged children.


Adults dealing with Avoiders feel despair and hopelessness and often have the impulse to give up.  The child’s response to this is to become passive and more hopeless.


Avoiders need the Crucial C of “courage.”  Adults need to notice only their strengths and ignore the negative.  It is important to set up a steady diet of manageable tasks that have a guarantee of success with no criticism.  Children at this stage and their parents will need a lot of encouragement from a team that includes a family therapist and dedicated school professionals.


When your child is misbehaving think about what that behavior is telling you.  What does your child need and how can you give it in a way that provides the message you you’re your child to learn in the long run?  Remember, you reap what you sow, so water your plants and encourage your children.

I encourage you to read this.....

Encouragement is a powerful tool for parents and adults and is a message all children need to hear.  It is not always easy, however here are 4 points, or Crucial C’s, to help you send your child a message of encouragement. 

  1. Connect

When a child feels connected they believe they BELONG and feel SECURE.  A sense of belonging is crucial to survival and a child’s ability to COOPERATE with others.

 Ways to foster a sense of connection:

Tell your child, “I love/care about you and will spend time with you at ____ time.”  You can also write this on a note if it easier.

Redirect child by involving him/her in a useful task.  For example, give them a list of groceries to get when grocery shopping, have them cook dinner, or encourage them to make artwork to hang in the house.  Use their strength to channel their energy into more positive, socially interested ways.

Avoid doing “special services” for child. 

Say a request once and then act.

Plan special time with child.

Set up routines.

Touch without words (hug, pat on back, etc)

Ignore unwanted behaviors.

 2. Capable

When a child feels capable they believe they CAN do it and feel COMPETENT and in CONTROL OF SELF.  The child is better equipped to be self-reliant opposed to dependent on others and develop a more positive SENSE OF SELF.

Ways to foster a sense of being capable:

Acknowledge that you can’t make your child do anything

Don’t fight and don’t give in; withdrawal from conflict; take a break and calm down

Do the unexpected

Be firm and kind

Act, don’t talk/lecture

Decide what YOU will do

Let the routine be the boss

Develop mutual respect

Offer limited choices; “You can do this or that, you decide.”

Set reasonable and few limits

Practice following through

Redirect child to positive power

 3. Count

When a child feels they count, they believe they MATTER and feel SIGNIFICANT and VALUABLE.  The child is more willing to CONTRIBUTE in a useful way and increase their SELF-ESTEEM and SELF-WORTH. 

Ways to foster significance, feeling they count:

Deal with the child’s hurt feelings; don’t avoid them

Share your feelings

Don’t take your child’s hurt feelings personally; avoid feeling hurt yourself

Avoid punishment and retaliation

Use reflective listening; “You feel sad because I said you cant have a sleepover because you talked back to mom.”  “You sound mad because you have to babysit your sister since you forgot to pick her up from practice. Is that right?”

Make amends with child; role model what you want to see in your child

Act, don’t talk/lecture

Show you care

Encourage individual assets and strengths

 4. Courage

When a child feels courageous, they believe the CAN handle a variety of situations and feel HOPEFUL and more WILLING TO TRY.  They display an increase sense of RESILIENCY and can find it easier to see how they are connected, capable and count. 

Ways to foster courage:

Show faith in child, believe they can do it and this may require you to fake it sometimes.

Take small steps by setting up opportunities for success.  What do you know your child will succeed at? Have them start there!

Stop all criticism

Encourage any positive attempt, no matter how small or if the child was less successful, they did try after all!

Focus on assets

Don’t give up

Teach skills/show them how

Step back and let child do it

Enjoy the child

Build off their interest and strengths

Encourage, encourage, encourage!


These Crucial C’s are fundamental psychological needs and when they are not met children often misbehave (stay tuned for next week’s blog for more information on goals of misbehavior). 

I encourage YOU to be courageous by taking a small step to help your child feel as if they are connected (belong), count (matter), capable and courageous.  Whether you believe you can, or cant, you are right! I believe you can!