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4 Goals of Misbehavior

Laura Kuehn, LCSW
Written by Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Dinkmeyer and McKay wrote an excellent parenting book entitled, The Parent’s Handbook. This post kicks off a four part series on the underlying motivators of misbehavior using the typology set forth by the authors of this book.

Understanding the fact that all children misbehave is not hard to do. Trying to figure out why is a whole different story. Sometimes you may feel that you need a secret decoder ring to figure it all out. Some parents give up all together, feeling that their efforts in this area are futile. Please don’t give up! Discovering the underlying motivation of your child’s misbehavior is one of the most helpful parenting tools in your toolbox.

In the next 4 articles, we will explore the four main reasons children misbehave (attention, power and control, revenge, display of inadequacy), what that behavior looks like and feels like in “real life,” the useful information it can provide and what you can do about it. Social psychologist, Rudolf Dreikurs was the first to suggest this typology for understanding children’s misbehavior. Don Dinkmeyer and Gary McKay continued his work and included it in their book entitled, The Parent’s Handbook (STEP: Systematic Training for Effective Parenting). This parenting handbook was first published in the mid 1970’s and has been in print ever since. It contains helpful information for parents on parenting styles, child development, and discipline. It uses plain language with lots of illustrative examples that help equip parents to be the best they can be.

Articles in this series:



About Laura

Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Laura is a licensed clinical social worker with a specialization in children and families. CfP is the place she combines some of her very favorite things: writing, parenting and God's word. She loves encouraging parents to build their families upon Jesus, the one true Cornerstone. She is happily married to a wonderfully supportive husband and is the mother of two delightfully inspiring children.


  • Hi. I know this article was published years ago, but I’m having a really difficult time with my 6 1/2year old daughter. She is my middle child and after reading all of your articles in this series she display if not 100% at least 99% and I don’t know where to start. Please if you could show me some guidance of how to go about it since she displays so many of them I would really appreciate it. Thanks in advance

    • Hi Paula,

      Yes, it is an older article, but I still monitor this site and provide support to parents through the comment section when I can. I am sorry that you are having such struggles with your 6 1/2 year old daughter. For a child who is demonstrating many, if not all of, the motives of misbehavior, I would start with identifying which area is causing the most disruption to your family unit. Is the attention seeking behavior causing her presence to dominate over her siblings? Or is her revenge seeking creating an unsafe environment? I would sit down and make a list of all of the troubling behaviors – just make a list as they pop into your mind. Then see if you can categorize the problems. For example, you may write, “won’t listen,” and “does what she wants.” Both reflect a lack of submission. Figure out what is causing the most disruption and start there. Often parents find that working on one area translates into others naturally anyway. Also, in this sort of situation a “clean slate” may be needed. I would try a behavior chart. Basically, you take away all of the “extras” in her life and she earns them back by working toward goals that you set together. You can read a little more about my approach to behavior charts and my suggestions here and here.

      I hope that helps get you headed in the right direction.

      God bless,

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