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Belief Behind the Behavior: Assumed Inadequacy

Why can children’s behavior be so baffling and frustrating?  It just doesn’t make sense! 

With Empowered Parenting, we offer you effective strategies for understanding the purpose of children’s behavior, and for taking action, so that you feel powerful instead of helpless to do anything about behavior you don’t want to see.

In the book “Children: the Challenge”, Rudolph Dreikurs explained that the ultimate goal, that children are trying to achieve, is belonging and significance.  Significance is the sense of feeling important and the opposite of feeling in-significant.  Belonging is a desire to find your place in the family group.

Dreikurs believed that every behavior, every action a child takes, has a purpose and is useful to parents because it communicates a need.  When children behave in a way that parents don’t like, or want, parents typically describe or label it MIS-behavior.  But we can look at mis-behavior as communicating a need that is not being met. Dreikurs suggests that, if the behavior the child is choosing fails to achieve their goal of belonging and significance, they may reconsider things and choose another course of action.

One of the goals that parents often describe as MIS-behavior is Assumed Inadequacy. The first clue to figuring out if this is what is going on for your child is noticing what feelings are coming up for you. Are you feeling despair, hopeless, helpless or inadequate? Do you respond by giving up or the other extreme, doing too much for your child? Do you find yourself over-helping, possibly even having a lack of faith in your child? Does your child respond by retreating even further or being passive? Do they show no improvement or response? Do they avoid trying at-all?

If you are answering yes to all of this then your child’s goal may be Assumed Inadequacy. The

belief behind the behavior of this goal is: “I don’t believe I can belong, so I’ll convince others not to expect anything of me. I am helpless and unable: it’s no use trying because I won’t do it right”. Ways we, as parents, may contribute to the belief is by either having very high

expectations of our child or the opposite, feeling it is our job, as a parent, to do everything for our child.

If this is your child, imagine they are wearing a sign that says, “Don’t give up on me-show me a small step”. With these kiddos it’s especially important to take time for training. Sometimes, as parents, we think, “my child should already know how to do this”. Ask yourself, have you really broken it down step-by-step and explicitly taught the skill by giving verbal directions and modeling for them? Have you had them complete the skill with you?

Often, we busy parents don’t take the time necessary in training our children to learn a new skill. Also, some kids need more training, because it can take longer to learn a new skill than we remember it taking.

Years ago, one of Ken’s daughters said she didn’t know what to do to run a load of laundry,

even though she had done it more than once before (but it had been a while). Once we got

started, she did remember most of what needed to be done, but she seemed to be stuck on

getting it just right. Getting frustrated and angry doesn’t leave a child, with the belief of

inadequacy, wanting to push through or try harder. Being patient and showing them a small

step to get started will likely work out much better. You can also try saying, “I’m completely

confident in your ability to handle it”, if you are confident that they have all the information

they need. I see students with this belief behind the behavior all the time in the classroom. They act out in class and refuse to do the work. Why? Because they don’t believe that they CAN do the work. Even if we know they are cognitively capable, it is what they believe that matters. Often, I hear students, saying they are stupid or bad. They have this constant negative talk going on in their heads. It doesn’t matter how much we tell them that they are capable, they need to experience it for themselves. Therefore, breaking things down into small, obtainable steps is helpful. They need to experience success repeatedly to boost their confidence and change their belief in themselves. I encourage you to start really small and then add more as they are able to.

For example, if your child is struggling to complete their 30 problems of math, encourage them to start with just 5 problems. Another approach that has worked with homework, especially when the child is feeling overwhelmed, like there is way too much to do and they can’t ever see getting it done, is to start with just 15-20 minutes. Sometimes getting started is the biggest hurdle to get over.

Remember, don’t give up on them, show faith and encourage any positive attempt, no matter how small. Try to build on their interests, finding things they really enjoy can build their motivation to keep trying.

Empowered Parenting is about helping parents realize that they have powerful options in

helping children learn how to achieve their goal in a more positive way.

Since every action a child takes has a purpose, and if a child is struggling with Assumed

Inadequacy, then with an understanding of the purpose behind our children’s behavior, rather than labeling it as MIS-behavior, we can see their behavior as communicating to us.  We can see that what they are trying to achieve is a feeling of belonging and significance.  We can then choose, as parents, to help them achieve their goal in a more positive way, with behavior that we want to see.

Much Love,


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