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Why Difficult Behavior Doesn’t Change

WHY DIFFICULT BEHAVIOR DOESN’T CHANGE:  Obviously, parents are quite concerned about difficult behavior in their children, especially with every intervention they can think of doesn’t seem to work for them. It’s easy to give up, isn’t it?

How many times have you heard a well-intending person say, “Well, he’s just doing that for ATTENTION.” So? Everyone needs and wants attention. They want to be affirmed and feel like they matter in some way. A deeper question would be, “Why do some youngsters engage in extremes of behavior in order to secure the attention other children obtain easily with appropriate behavior.” Let’s consider four reasons: Ignorance, Fear, Thinking and Payoff.

IGNORANCE: How could any of us possibly know what we don’t know?  I’ve met very few youngsters whom I believed actually schemed and planned to have their lives fall apart with everyone at school and home upset with them. No emotionally healthy person invites pain and misery. They don’t have a clue as to how to change, even if they wanted to. (This is the premise of cognitive behavioral therapy.)

FEAR: Change involves the unknown, and the unknown can be scary. Even poor behavior brings with it a comfort zone, and getting out of that comfort zone, as bad as it is, can be terrifying. Add to this the fact that authentic change involves recognizing and expressing one’s vulnerabilities. That can send fear off the chart. Who really wants to talk about that stuff? Kids don’t; to them expressing something makes it more real and more scary.

The big problem with fear-induced behavior is that, most often, only the behavior is addressed. (And that makes sense because it’s the behavior that’s creating the trouble.) But fear hangs around, sets up residence and orders new curtains. Nothing changes.

THINKING: Our own thoughts can beat us up plenty every day. Kids who find themselves “stuck” in inappropriate behaviors often feel they are fulfilling a role they rightly deserve, that somehow change is not an option for them. (If you’ve studied the roles youngster’s can play in dysfunctional and compulsive family systems, you’ve discovered that a child can be reinforced for negative thinking. This is tough to change.)

PAYOFFS: Poor behavior can fulfill a definite purpose. If it does, it will continue over and over again. Youngsters who are uncomfortable around others, for instance, might engage in behavior that keeps peers at a distance. Although isolation hurts, the distance the behavior creates provides some relief. This is an example of how bad behavior feels good. It’s not right, but why wouldn’t it keep happening?

In future posts, we’ll look at what parents and caregivers can do to address these change-inhibiting issues.

(Note: If this topic interests you and you’d like to be notified when Dr. Sutton’s book encompassing this topic becomes available, email him at the address provided on the right, putting CHANGING BEHAVIOR in the subject line.)

James Sutton, Psychologist

January 27, 2010 Posted by | adversity, Counselors, Difficult Child, Educators, family, Parents | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment