To Change the Behavior, Change the Child’s

Motivation

Copyright © 2011 Tina Feigal

Children of all ages are motivated by their internal urges (hunger, fatigue, mood, preference) which are influenced by outside forces (time constraints, siblings, friends, parents, grandparents, and teachers.)  We forget that the internal urges and outside forces are frequently out of sync. To gain the best cooperation possible, our own instincts tell us that we should deliver the expectation, and the child should comply, and if compliance doesn’t occur, we should use anger to make it occur.  As we fail to consider the child’s inner urges, and only consider our own perspective, we keep running the same script over and over with no improvements.  A simple request turns into a major tantrum or disrespectful scene, and behavioral storm clouds start to gather. Harsh language, slamming doors, threats, and physical attacks follow what parents thought was a reasonable request.  What happened here? 

To know the answer to this question, we need to study the child for signs of what’s motivating him or her, in other words, what are his current internal urges?   Often some internal negative message, such as “I’m not a good kid, so why should I act like one?” or “I only want my way, and I don’t care what anyone else thinks,” make a child behave the way he does.  When a child feels this down, compliance is just not in the offing. 

Considering the motivation for behavior is a much better way to actually get the results we want.  Now some people think this might be coddling the child.  I would argue that with all human beings, listening to internal motivation results in better performance, so why not use this in parenting difficult children? The real “magic” here is to lift the child up so that he feels seen. 

Children with ADHD, Oppositional Defiance Disorder, Attachment Disorder, Giftedness, Autism Spectrum Disorder, and a variety of just plain hard behavior need to be regarded as having their own internal agenda, based on the messages from children’s bodies.  If we fail to see them as having these internal urges, we will be in non-stop combat mode. 

So the next time you have a request, consider the child’s internal urges before you deliver it, and include an acknowledgement of the child’s inner state in your words.  It can look like this: “I realize you hate to be rushed, so I am going to allow extra time for us to get out the door in the morning.  You can take your time getting up and dressed, so you can feel more relaxed. We can leave at 7:30 without having to hurry.”  The child’s ability to comply is directly related to the amount of sensitivity to his internal urges.  The outside force of the need to be on time for school, camp, or practice now seems less foreboding, and he is free to cooperate. You feel better, too, knowing you have a technique to use that’s compassionate and gets positive results. 

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Copyright © 2011 Tina Feigal

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