Misbehavior: Assumed Inadequacy

Misbehavior is Communication

If you’ve been following our blog the lost few weeks, you’ll want to skip over this brief introduction!

The need to belong and feel significant is one common to all humans, and when these legitimate needs are not met, misbehavior occurs.

A child cannot understand “why” they feel unhappy, let alone articulate when these core needs are not being met.  Their behavior is a symptom of something deeper going on inside of them.  It’s important to remember that misbehavior is a way children communicate to parents and caregivers that something is not right in their world, and they need our help to make sense of it.

teaching a young girl to read at preschool

Assumed Inadequacy

“I can’t do it.” “I don’t want to.” “I want to stay home.” “I’ll never be good at ______.”
When a child feels like a failure, they don’t feel that they belong or that they have significance. They become discouraged and often withdraw into themselves. They stop trying and fain helplessness. They are afraid to try because they are afraid of failing (again).

Responding to Assumed Inadequacy

It can be very frustrating for a parent to help a child who “shuts down” easily. They may be tempted to give up on their child.  A parent who has given up stops asking the child to do things and avoids potential conflict with the child.

Parents should be careful not to reinforce their child’s feelings of inadequacy by doing things for them. If they do this, it conveys to the child that the parent does not see them as capable.  Parents should also examine themselves to see if their expectations for their child are too high, or if they value their child’s performance over effort. 

Guiding Your Child Through Assumed Inadequacy

  • Recognize your child’s effort instead of praising results
  • Acknowledge small steps of improvement instead of looking for perfection
  • Talk about and demonstrate a belief that mistakes are a normal part of life and that they are opportunities for growth
  • Don’t pressure your child to do things – instead, provide them with opportunities and give them gentle nudges
  • Provide opportunities for your child to build skills for independence
  • Acknowledge your child’s unique gifts and temperament – don’t compare them to someone else.
  • Spend lots of quality time with your child; give your child affection such as words of affirmation and physical touch like snuggles, hugs, high fives, wrestling, etc.
  • Establish meaningful parent-child rituals that send the message to your child that they are valued and important
  • Invite your child to contribute to family life – giving them responsibilities in the home not only builds skills but also confidence
  • Invite them to work alongside you, reinforcing that they are wanted and are “Would you like to cook dinner with me?”
  • Ask them for suggestions and let your child see you using those suggestions!
  • Set your child up for success by breaking down tasks into small steps that you know they can achieve
  • Don’t criticize your child
  • Build on your child’s interests and offer them opportunities to grow within their interest areas
  • Don’t give your child pity, which reinforces that they are not capable
  • Finally, don’t give up on your child!

“A child needs encouragement like a plant needs water.”
Dr. Dreikurs


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