It is easy to understand the goals of children’s behavior if you know what to look for.  It is easy to manage children’s unwanted behavior if you understand their goals. Rudolf Dreikurs originally developed the idea that there are four types of children’s misbehavior, an idea developed by Don Dinkmeyer and Gary McKay in Systematic Training for Effective Parenting.

The first clue to understanding the purpose of misbehavior is to be aware of how you feel when the behavior occurs.  For instance, if a parent finds the behavior annoying, the child is most likely seeking attention. 


The second clue to understanding the behavior is to notice how children respond when you respond to their behavior. If a parent gives in to demands for attention in positive ways (giving in to the demand), or in negative ways (scolding, criticizing), the child will be temporarily satisfied but soon returns for another helping.


The optimal response to inappropriate attention seeking is to give a child attention for making a positive contribution.  The reactions and responses to unwanted behaviors are listed below.


Keep in mind that Attention, Power, Revenge, demonstrating Inadequacy and Independence can be sought in either positive or negative ways:


·       Children thrive when they get attention for making a positive contributions,

·       Are encouraged when they learn positive and productive uses of power

·       Feel socially connected when they can correct injustice,

·       Arrange to increase knowledge and competency when they recognize feeling unprepared, and

·       Launch into productive adulthood when they can meet the previous four goals routinely.


Goal/Reaction Parents feel/think: Children feel/think: Parents’ typical reaction Child’s typical reaction Optimal responses


-I count only when I am being noticed or served.

-Remind, scold, or coax;
-Give in to demands for attention.

-Temporarily stops when given either positive or negative attention but soon continues;
-May begin new behavior to gain attention

-Ignore annoying behavior when possible;
-Give regular attention in positive ways, (show interest, listen, include);
-Never give attention on demand.



-I count only when I get my own way, when you do what I want you to do, when I can do whatever I want.

-Engages in power struggle, try to control child.

-Intensifies action when reprimanded;
-Both parent and child escalate power struggle.

-Withdraw from conflict; act, rather than talk;
-Explain your position, listen when they explain theirs
-Establish equality by negotiating solutions;
-Redirect child's efforts into constructive channel;
-Both parent and child escalate power struggle.



-Life is unfair.
-If I can’t get justice, I’ll settle for revenge.
-It makes sense to make myself unlikable to others

-Telling the child they hurt you” or
-Hurting them again for hurting you.

-Wants to get even when feeling hurt.
-Seeks revenge when justice seems out of reach.

-Avoid retaliation or punishment.
-Take time and effort to understand.  
-Paraphrase child: “It seems that you feel hurt and want to hurt someone back.”

Display of Inadequacy


-I can't do anything right so I won't try to do anything at all;
-I am no good

-Despair, hopeless, discouraged;
-"I give up." 

-If the parent doesn’t demand or scold, the child goes away and does not come back.
-passive; no improvement

-Encourage any positive effort;
-Have faith in a child's ability;
-Don't give up, show pity or criticize.
-Be patient



-I need to be in charge of my own life.
–I am ready to make my own choices.

-I still need to parent you to feel that I have value.

Increases independence,
-May set limits (with anger or kindness)
-Avoid situations that feel stifling.
-Keeps secrets about activities.

-Allow children to experience the consequences of their own behavior, either positive or negative.
-Avoid saying “I told you so” but ask instead how you can be supportive if negative consequences occur.