Positive Parenting

The Need for Revenge


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Shouting hurtful words, spitting, hitting, destroying beloved toys or family photos. Does your child ever say or do things that shock or disgust you? Do you ever feel hurt or bewildered at how they could act that way towards you? Today I am continuing my series on Decoding Four Needs Behind Misbehavior (catch up on the needs of Power and Attention) with understanding when and why a child has a “Need for Revenge”.

An angry, vengeful child can intensify when parents intervene.  The problem often does not end well, as the child can keep pushing until the parent loses control and yells or breaks down and cries.  Often, this is the goal of the child’s misbehavior — to push the parent to the place where the adult is equally as upset as the child. Why would a child want to do this, you wonder? A vengeful child is often a hurting child.

When a child is overcome by negative emotion, they are often scared and in need of help. Sometimes those painful emotions are coming from hurt within the parent-child relationship.  A child needs a parent to contain them — their needs, emotions, and behaviors.  When a child is hurt by a parent, they will often try to communicate that they need healing in the relationship by expressing how badly they hurt.  Many children do not know how to assertively communicate this painful reality in a polite and healthy way (to be fair, how many adults can do this either?), so they do whatever they can to explain exactly how badly they hurt. The fastest way to convey how much someone hurt you is to hurt them back.

This is a backwards and damaging way for a child to find comfort and healing with the parent.  It often backfires and (understandably) makes the problem worse. Reacting to the behavior itself does not address the need for comfort and healing.   So how can you address and prevent this type of behavior? 

  • Be humble.  Remind yourself that no one is perfect, including your child and yourself. Misbehavior and hurt feelings are a part of relationships and so is repairing and healing.
  • Ask yourself, “How have I contributed to this misbehavior?  Could my child be reacting to something I did that hurt them?”
  • Notice your own feelings as they come up (rage? hurt? victimization?) and allow them to signal to you that your child may be feeling the exact same way.
  • Reflect feelings and communicate that you see the child is hurting. “Wow, you really hurt me when you said you hate me.  I wonder if you feel really hurt right now too?”
  • Model assertive communication by directly addressing the behavior and the emotion.  This will teach the child how to use healthier and more effective communicate skills in the future and decrease the need to seek revenge out of lack of better options.
  • Apologize for hurting the child. This is the healing the child (and parent) longs to find. Even if you don’t disagree with your behavior, you can still apologize that the child is hurt.  “I am sorry that you are hurt that I won’t let you go out with friends tonight.”
  • Set limits.  After connecting and addressing the emotional needs, set limits on behavior.  “I am glad I understand how you feel and we can work through it.  You are not allowed to scream and break things when you are upset.  Please tell me when you are upset so we can address it in a better way.  Next time you can say, “Mom, I feel really mad” but don’t scream, say hurtful things, or break anything.”

Through connecting and reflecting feelings, a child looking for revenge can find comfort instead.  As a parent tunes into this need they can not only heal the breach in the relationship with the child and avoid the misbehavior in the future, but they can also teach healthy assertive communication skills.  These skills are critical for your child to have healthy relationships in their future.

Home Alone gif found via Thoroughly Modern.