I want to share an encouraging moment from recent life: Our week started with a particularly upsetting episode for my 3 1/2 year-old daughter. She was at preschool and apparently came down with a spontaneous case of the rota-virus that is spreading around the school like wildfire. She had an accident which required a change of clothes and her cot cover...you get the picture. So I got the call at noon to come pick her up. She was upset, but she recovered. I subsequently caught the bug from her, and I recovered.
Two days later...
It was time for her to go to school again. The FIRST thing she said to me that morning at 7:00 AM is, "I'm still sick. I cannot go to school."
I listened to her, and asked a few questions, but went on with the morning, while she continued to insist she didn't want to go to school. The whining increased. I started to tense up, thinking, "We don't have time for this. She's too young to be saying she doesn't like school. Why can't we just have ONE morning go smoothly?"
And then (and I think this is ONLY because I had been sick in bed the previous day, grading graduate students' homework on Adlerian parenting/Positive Discipline), I paused and said to myself, "I bet I can figure out what is going on here."
So I made a guess. (I'm sure it's obvious to some of you veterans out there.) I said to her, "I know what happened on Monday was so upsetting and you were so surprised by that. I bet it felt a little scary."
She instantly began to cry (the real tears) and nodded, saying "Yes, and I'm so scared it's going to happen again."
She immediately calmed down, let me hug her and hold her, and I reassured her that her body was all better now and that it would not happen again.
The rest of the morning was fine, and we got in the car and made it to school on time. No more tears.
That afternoon, I told her she must be feeling so proud of herself for being so brave, but really, I was thinking, "Yay for me! I guessed right!” I slowed down long enough to listen to her! I didn't get mad! I validated her feelings. I didn't let the tension of hurried mornings get in the way of hearing her very real and valid fear!" She must have felt encouraged because she changed her behavior.
After this experience, I am thinking back to a topic brought up in a recent parenting class. A parent expressed some respectful doubt that we could "guess" at the beliefs (and fears) behind the behavior. My example above is not necessarily a mistaken goal, and I know that it is not always appropriate or possible to do goal disclosure with our own children. However, orienting myself to the origin of her (at the time, very annoying) behavior, and combining it with some curiosity and calming down time for myself was magical!
-- Monica H., M.A.
Doctoral Candidate, Clinical Psychology
Mistaken Goal Resources
Click Here to download the NEW Mistaken Goal Chart which will help you discover the belief behind the child's misbehavior. It is a new mistaken goal chart because it includes a column on "How Adults May Contribute" to the misbehavior.
Watch this video from the new Positive Discipline Online Parenting Class for a further explanation of the Mistaken Goals of Misbehavior.