Children's Mistaken Goals

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Adapted from the book "Maintaining Sanity in the Classroom, illustrated teaching techniques" by Rudolf Dreikurs, et. al. (1982).

All children exhibit goal-seeking behaviors. Dreikurs, a child psychiatrist and educator, observed four principal mistaken goals, listed in the chart below in order of increasing difficulty of treatment. He also found that when attention seeking behaviors fail, the child will next seek power. If this is thwarted, then the child seeks revenge, and finally when this fails, the child avoids contact, having become completely discouraged. Note, that in terms of manageability of children, the fourth state, of learned helplessness, while apparently easy to manage (since the child often sits passively in the back of the class), is the most difficult to treat. Once a child has reached this state, then, during the recovery process, the child will have to work through the previous states, displaying revenge, power, and attention seeking behaviors, before becoming the well-adjusted child. It takes understanding, knowledge and patience to guide the child through the recovery process.

Similarly, adults have the same mistaken goals. However, because of the well developed art of deception, these goals may or may not be immediately obvious. A more desired goal for adults is the state of self-actualization. With careful introspection, study and sage advice, much progress towards this goal can be accomplished by the motivated individual.

If you are sensitive to your own feeling states, the following chart will help you identify the four mistaken goals of children, and provide a few useful corrective measures.

Your Feelings Likely Goal Corrective Measure

1. Annoyance ATTENTION No eye contact or words Delight ("cute") Non-verbally make child feel loved Coax/remind as soon as child starts annoying 2. Provoked POWER Give choices, not orders Threatened Sidestep power struggle Challenged Give child ways to feel powerful 3. Hurt REVENGE Do not hurt back Mad Reestablish relationship Want to get even Use logical consequences 4. Despair AVOIDANCE Don't coax or show pity Pity Discouragement Arrange small successes Annoyance Learned- Avoid doing for child Helplessness
Last updated 14 August 1995

Copyright © 1995 by Duen Hsi Yen, All rights reserved.

E-mail: yen@noogenesis.com

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