There are almost always underlying factors as to why kids do the things they do.  Often when children seem hyper or lack concentration, it is an immediate reaction to claim they are "just hyper" or have attention deficit disorder.  For most children, this is not the case.   Children are not usually adept at verbally expressing their feelings and emotions.  When they act out; it is most often an indication there is an unmet need.  The challenge can be in determining what that need is and how to satisfy it appropriately.  

Areas that Cause Manipulative and Inappropriate Child Behavior  

In looking at the overall environments of children, the areas that cause them to act out in challenging or manipulative behavior can be broken down into four basic areas.

  1. Psychological needs:  this area includes the basic needs outlined by Maslow; the need for safety, love, power, freedom and even fun.
  2. Environmental arena:  this area includes the dynamics of the family and the impact of the community; school, influence of peers and the media, cultural system such as gender, race and age.
  3. Personal characteristics:  this area encompasses the physical, attitudes, and affective beliefs of the child.
  4. Caretaker/Adult responses:  This area incorporates how caretakers communicate with the child, their reinforcement pattern, sensitivity to the environment and their objectivity.   

Family structure or the dynamics of the family include what role the child is placed in the family.  In a dysfunctional family the child may be the “hero” or “star” with great leadership ability and interpersonal skills who is generally an overachiever.  The child’s role may be one of underachieving and challenging authority- the “scapegoat.  The role could be the loner “lost child” or the “mascot” who seeks attention and is the class clown.   

Unmet Needs Masked by Inappropriate Behavior 

The goal of an inappropriate behavior is to meet a need.  When children act out and get their needs met in that manner; the act will be repeated.  It becomes a learned game for the child.  It is only when an alternative is presented that they will learn to use more appropriate methods.  CaretakerBehavior Problems Mask Unmet Needs – photo by Lisa ChamberlainCredit: photo by Lisa Chamberlains need to understand what the child is masking, what the “game is” in order to teach a more appropriate way of achieving the desired result.   

Children seeking power often play games such as “being cool”, throwing a temper tantrum, bullying, stubborn, blamer, or name calling.  Insecurity or the fear of failure may be masked by the games of “I don’t care” and helpless.  Attention seekers may play “cutesy”, whining, or class clown.   If a child is acting fearful, it may be a mask  being used to avoid or cover some traumatic situation.  

Once the underlying need is identified, it is much easier to determine a course of discipline.  Caretakers and teachers can use the techniques suited for the individual and the particular behavior in appropriate manners that facilitate learning and adapting for the child.  



Youth Light Inc. presentation - 2005



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