Positive Parenting

The Need for Revenge


home alone wishes.gif

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.

Positive Parenting

The Need for Power

“You can’t make me!”

Does your child ever push back, try to tell you what to do, or refuse to obey?  Do you find yourself feeling challenged, threatened, or even defeated by your child?  Consider these feelings to be a signal that your child is fighting hard for power.

A child may crave power because they are developmentally ready for more responsibility than their life is giving them.  Or, they may be trying to create order in the midst of chaos in their life.  Another reason could be that they have a strong will or are a natural leader and need a positive outlet for those healthy personality traits. By understanding that defiant behavior can stem from a need for power, a parent can avoid wasting their energy in a power struggle or feeling victimized by the child.

Decoding this misbehavior provides a chance to empower and redirect potential conflict. Give your child small opportunities to be in charge you empower them and redirect potential conflict.

Simple ways to give your children power:

  • Give them choices.  By selecting the options you maintain control, but you offer them an opportunity for self-agency by choosing what option they prefer.  For example, “We will read one book before bedtime.  You get to choose if it’s the truck book or the dinosaur book”.
  • Give them small tasks or chores.  Allow them to pour their own drink or help you bake.
  • Do not engage in power struggles, but rather, remind them of their responsibilities. “You don’t want to obey, but I am the leader and your job is to obey.  When you do your job, you get to do fun stuff.  I wonder what happens when you don’t do your job? (And let them tell you).
  • Allow them to struggle with the small stuff without you swooping in to do it for them.  “You want me to do that for you, but I think you can figure it out on your own if you keep trying…. Wow, you did that all by yourself! You didn’t need my help.”
  • Give them boundaries for them to be in charge.  “You need to do this right now, but later let’s play a game where YOU TELL ME what to do.”  “I am the leader of our family, you are the leader of your toys.”
  • Allow them to explain things to you.  Play dumb, don’t correct them.  “Wow, you really know a lot about Legos! Thanks for teaching me.”
  • and lastly, make sure they have lots of unstructured time to play.  Play is where they are truly in charge, and without the time or space to play a child will be at a deficient.

When a child’s need for power is met you will know because they will be confident, content, and capable.  They’ll be less likely to challenge you, because they have been empowered to control the appropriate things in their world.

What little things have you noticed make a big difference in your kid’s sense of power?  My 13-month-old beams with pride when she turns off the light switch and my 3-year-old announces “I did it myself, I didn’t need your help!” after repairing his Lego creation.

Positive Parenting

The need for Attention

It’s no joke that kids need attention.  Actually, every single one of us needs attention. It’s a basic need that when goes unmet, many problems arise.  From physical neglect to low self-worth, a lack of attention comes at a high cost.  So, it makes sense that kids (and some adults) will go to great lengths to make sure that they are seen and heard.  Kids will take any attention, even negative attention, over nothing at all.  This is where a lot of behavioral issues can stem– the desperate, biological need to get attention, even by misbehaving.

So if needing attention can lead to misbehaving, how do you deal with that?  You give the kid attention.  Lots and lots of it.  You heap it on them before they realize they need it.  When you understand that misbehavior can serve as a request for attention, you also understand your child.  Their seemingly “bad” behavior becomes less threatening and shameful, and more resolvable.

The next time you find yourself annoyed by your child, consider if their pestering might be a means to get your attention.  Try to then lean into that need, knowing that it is indicative of the importance of your role in your child’s life.  Simple ways to meet the need for attention:

  • Touch them! Hug them, pick them up, give them a high five.
  • Give words to the behavior.  Help them feel seen and raise their awareness of their actions. “You keep grabbing my phone out of my hands.  I wonder if you would rather me look at you than this article I’m reading? I would love to look at you! Next time ask and don’t grab my phone.”
  • Read them stories.  Play board games.  Get on the floor and look at whatever they are doing. Ask if you can join them.
  • “Track” their behavior by verbally repeating what you see them do, just like a sportscaster would repeat the on-field action in a play-by-play. “I see you putting away your toys just like I asked you.  You are a great helper to our family!”
  • Sing with them.  Make up silly songs that include their name and things they enjoy.
  • What would you add? What works with your kids?

Looking back, can you remember any desperate ways you “asked” for attention as a kid or teenager? Oh the stories I could tell! Do you remember any times you felt truly seen or heard?  Who filled up your tank?  I would love to hear!





Positive Parenting

Decoding Four Needs Behind Misbehavior

Does your child’s behavior ever drive you bonkers?  Do you find yourself not only questioning your child, but also your own ability as a parent?  You’re not alone.

An important value of “positive parenting” is the willingness to separate the behavior from the child.  A helpful way to do this is to view the misbehavior as a form of communication — a dysfunctional way the child is trying tell you they have an unmet need.  Four major needs behind misbehavior are Attention, Power, Revenge, and Inadequacy. By understanding the need your child is trying to meet you can assist them in filling that need, and therefore eliminate the acting-out behavior.

Do you think a need for Attention, Power, Revenge, or Inadequacy could be driving a common parent/child struggle in your home?  Answer the following quick questions with the choice that best suites you to discover what need may be behind your struggles:

When dealing with this issue, you feel:

  1. Annoyed, Irritated, Worried, Guilty
  2. Challenged, Provoked, Defeated
  3. Hurt, Disappointed
  4. Despair, Hopeless

When corrected, the child often responds by:

  1. Temporarily stops misbehavior while parent address it, but starts up again
  2. Intensifies actions, tries to gain control over parent
  3. Tries to get even, acts unlikable
  4. Shuts down, acts helpless


Choice 1 for both questions illustrate the need for Attention.  Choice 2- Power, Choice 3 – Revenge, Choice 4- Inadequacy.

Once you have an idea of the need behind your child’s misbehavior, you can address it proactively and help avoid misbehavior.  Not only does this lead to greater peace in your home, but it also builds a deeper relationship with your child.  You can also use the knowledge of their need to teach them to assertively meet their own needs in healthy ways.

Stay tuned for more about Mistaken Goals and simple ways to help meet your child’s needs.