Redefining Misbehavior Part II: The Need For Connection

Written by Paige Lucas-Stannard on July 11th, 2014

Consensual Living, Gentle Discipline

In the first installment of the series Redefining Misbehavior, we looked at this crazy thing we call “misbehavior” and how our beliefs about it drive our reactions as parents. If you haven’t had a chance to read it yet, I encourage you to do so because the simple act of reframing what we call misbehavior can be a game changer in your relationship with your kids.

Now we’re going to turn our attention to some helpful insights from psychology about why humans behave the way they do.

What Drives Misbehavior?

Most of what we understand about human needs and motivation comes from the work of Alfred Adler, a contemporary of Sigmund Freud. Work based on his theories is called Adlerian Psychology.

There are a few premises to understand before we look at misbehavior. According to Adlerian Psychology;

  1. Humans are hardwired for seeking personal power and autonomy (self direction).

  2. No one can really control another person. You can’t “make” someone sleep, eat, clean, or “behave”.

  3. You can only control yourself and the environment.

These premises really fly in the face of traditional parenting. The whole point of “good” parenting, traditionally, is that a child should obey! Because I’m the parent! Don’t talk back to me! And, do it now!

You might be able to “make” your child clean his room or do her homework this way but you haven’t really controlled them. You’ve given them a choice – do your homework or I’m going to spank you/take your car/make you stand in the corner. The child decided she doesn’t want those things and so chooses to do her homework.

In the short term you won. She did her homework. In the long term, she has learned three things:

  1. Powerful people can hurt me (physically or emotionally) to control me

  2. I will find another way to have my power (doing crappy homework or acting out in some other way).

  3. I can’t wait until I’m the one with the power.

I wouldn’t really feel like I won anything. I remember homework struggles like this as a kid and I can still feel how awful those nights were. There wasn’t anyone in the house that was happy. Joy? Not so much.

And, I definitely wasn’t having any of my needs met.

Adler’s Theory of Personality includes 10 facets that shape a person’s actions, but we are going to focus on four that encompass several of the facets and are based on the work of Betty Lou Bettner (citation: Bettner, B.L. & Lew, A. (1989). Raising Kids Who Can. Newton Ctr MA: Connexionx Press.)

She calls them the 4 C’s that all humans need and which drive our behavior. When these needs are not met we behave in ways that we think will meet them and often these behaviors backfire and have the opposite effect that we hoped.

The 4 C’s are Connection, Capability, Counting, and Courage. Today we’re going to look at Connection.

The Need For Connection

We all need to feel connected – the need to believe we have a place – that we belong (Adler’s facet of Belonging).

Can you identify your own feelings of connectedness or your feelings of unease when you feel disconnected? Think about how you feel when you feel you don’t belong. Now imagine that feeling in a child with less maturity and life-experience.

Recognizing Disconnection Behavior

When a child feels disconnected, he tends to act out with attention-seeking behaviors like whining and interrupting. His mistaken belief is that any attention is better than no attention.

A parent creates disconnection with their child when they give no attention, partial attention, or doesn’t meet agreements for alone time. For example, if you say “I need 5 minutes and I’ll be right there” and you say it for 2 straight hours, a child will feel disconnected. Disconnection can also exist when a parent is distracted by other things like the TV or their phone. Lastly, children with siblings can feel disconnected if they never get one- on-one time. They may feel they get lost in the shuffle.

Meeting the Need for Connection

On the other hand, a parent meets the need for connection by providing positive, loving attention.

Some ideas for meeting your child’s need for connection:

  • Have daily time for connection. Don’t just leave it to chance or assume you are connecting during the million “Mommy!”‘s you answered all day.
  • Connection time it isn’t a secret – especially in older kids – tell your child, “I need some connection time with you. Can we carve out some time today?” It doesn’t have to be framed as their need. Let them know you crave a connection with them too.
  • Have family rituals that promote connection. In my family we have a brass Buddha bell we pass around and ring while saying what we are thankful for.
  • When you can’t give attention immediately, connect explicitly – “I can see you need my attention. I’ll finish this phone call and then we’ll sit and talk, ok?” And, then follow through.
  • If you have multiple children have explicit one-on-one time. By explicit, I mean that the other children know that this is “Jamie’s time” and they shouldn’t interrupt (and conversely they won’t be interrupted during their time).
  • Listen when your children talk. Make your new definition of “listen” to require eye contact. This will make you put your phone down and give undivided attention.

Can you think of other ways to ensure your child’s need for connection is met?

Stay tuned for the remaining 3 C’s!

Photo Credits

Photo credit: PS3 Studios

About The Author: Paige Lucas-Stannard

Parenting Gently parentinggently My NPN Posts

Paige is a parenting educator and writer and the founder of, which offers resources to help progressive parents find their authentic voices and implement respectful, values-based (and fun!) parenting in their homes. Her new book, Gender Neutral Parenting: Raising kids with the freedom to be themselves, explores raising kids without gender stereotypes.

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