This article will address the final of the four major goals of children’s misbehavior. In the previous three articles, we have addressed attention-seeking, controlling, and revenge-seeking behaviors. Dinkmeyer and McKay proposed this typology of misbehavior in their book entitled STEP Parenting. It provides parents with helpful insights into the reasons behind their children’s difficult behaviors. We can’t know how until we know why.
This post will address “display of inadequacy,” or children who give up in the face of difficulties.
What a display of inadequacy looks like
Children who feel inadequate believe that they are incapable of performing up to their expectations or the expectations of the significant others in their lives. They think, “I am no good. Nothing I do is any good. Why bother?” Here are some behaviors these children may display:
- Refusal to try new things
- Giving up easily
- Disparaging comments such as, “I am no good” or “I can’t”
- Poor school performance
- Excessive timidness
- Lack of confidence
NOTE: Children who display these behaviors may have underlying learning or mood disorders. It is important for parents who are concerned about these behaviors to rule out depression, social anxiety or a learning disability such as dyslexia. In addition, children with inattentive type of ADHD who have gone undiagnosed or treated for years can develop these types of behaviors. Seek out a professional educational or mental health assessment if you are concerned. And for a child who is suddenly demonstrating such behaviors, it it important to have a professional assess them for thoughts of suicide or self-harm.
What a display of inadequacy behaviors feel like to you
Parents of children who are displaying feelings or beliefs of inadequacy often feel like giving up themselves. They feel hopeless, that things will never improve and that their child will never change. They can also experience feelings of anger as their frustrations mount in the face of ineffective efforts to help their child.
What display of inadequacy behavior tells you
These children lack confidence in themselves, their worth and their abilities. As stated above, parents of such children would be wise to monitor for a possible underlying depressive disorder by taking the following factors and symptoms into consideration: a family history of chemical depression, anhedonia (lack of enjoyment in activities previously enjoyed), sleep disturbance, change in appetite, difficulty concentrating and anxiety. These can all indicate clinically significant issues.
How to address a display of inadequacy
You may want to throw up your hands in despair in the face of a child who re-buffs all your efforts to help them keep at something or engage in something that you feel should be easy for them. Here are some things you can to do help a child struggling with a desire to give up.
1) Provide encouragement
These children need lots of encouragement to counteract their feelings of inadequacy. Encouragement is quite different from praise however and parents would be wise to learn the distinction. Encouragement is specific and praise is general. Encouragement focuses on the effort rather than the results. Encouragement addresses the child’s experience but praise addresses the adult’s feelings. Instead of saying: “Good job! You did great!” (praise), try saying: “You put so much effort into that drawing. Look how amazing it turned out! You must be so pleased!” (encouragement).
Don’t get hung up on this though. You will not damage your child with praise once in a while. Think of it like junk food – great as an occasional treat, but not something you want as your main diet.
2) Chain desirable behaviors
Attach success in one area to success in others. If your child learned to buckle his belt but is struggling with his shoelaces, remind him that buckling the belt was hard too but he did it. Link previous success to projections of success with the current struggle. But be sure to not minimize the current struggle either by saying something like, “Oh, this is easy. Just try harder.” Validate their current efforts and previous successes.
3) Let them struggle
It’s tempting to say, “Oh, just give it to me, I’ll do it for you” or “Hurry up!” It’s important for parents of these kids to pad transitions for extra time with things like tying shoes and putting books in a back pack to allow time for the struggle. Anytime you see even the slightest progress in the midst of the effort to try lavish on the encouragement to keep going. Simply noticing what is happening is encouraging, such as, “You are grabbing the lace and moving it around the other one. You dropped it, but you are picking it back up to try again. You are keeping at it even though it is hard!” These children need to have their effort encouraged, no matter how small.
Noticing incremental improvements and verbalizing your faith in their ability (“I know you can do it!”) will go a long way in combating displays of inadequacy. You can read more on ways to increase your child’s self confidence here.
In these last four articles, we have covered the four main causes of misbehavior among children. Hopefully you now feel equipped to use your new “secret decoder ring” the next time you are faced with troubling behaviors in your children. With a little investigation and self-reflection you will be able to uncover their hidden motives. But more importantly, you will know how to best address them.
For ways to create a discipleship opportunity when faced with challenging behaviors, click here.