Goals of misbehavior – Part 3: Revenge

Why do children misbehave? To communicate? To control? To manipulate? This four-part series will describe the goals of misbehavior, what they mean and how you can effectively respond to them.

When you respond with empany, your child feels heard and valued.

When you respond with empany, your child feels heard and valued.

Research has identified four main goals of misbehavior from children: attention, power, revenge and display of inadequacy. This article will focus on the third goal, revenge. For more information about why children misbehave, check out Michigan State University Extension’s articles on attention, power and display of inadequacy.

Ever feel like a child was trying to get back at you for something, like you had a target on your back? Revenge is a dish best served cold and sometimes it’s served in a sippy cup.

Humans have all sorts of reactions when they feel hurt. Sometimes when we don’t have the tools to deal with painful emotions, we take that hurt and try to throw it on others because misery loves company. Children will display these revenge behaviors as one form of misbehavior.

Children lack detailed understanding of their emotions and what they mean. Combine that with undeveloped communication and social skills and children aren’t left with many options to manage feelings of hurt. So instead of addressing them, they throw their hurt on others. These revenge behaviors will come across as personal attacks, whether direct or indirect. Children might hurt others unprovoked with words or actions, damage belongings and act with an all-around unpleasantness. In these instances of revenge-motivated behavior, parents and caregivers often feel hurt, angry, wondering why the child wants to hurt them.

How to manage revenge-oriented behaviors

Try these tips from Michigan State University Extension to manage revenge-seeking misbehavior:

  • Establish boundaries. Work on defining the boundaries of your relationship with your child. You can talk about the importance of respecting people and possessions and how to respectfully communicate with others.
  • Hug it out. Teach your child that feelings of hurt are a normal part of life. Teach your child that it is OK to express these negative emotions. Give them words to use and work together on ways of identifying and expressing these feelings. When you respond with empathy, your child feels heard and valued.
  • Be Switzerland. It might be tempting to strike back when your child hurts you, but instead work on keeping the peace. You will show your child how to acknowledge other’s feelings and manage tough situations with democracy and dignity.
  • Teach them to own up. The feelings behind these revenge behaviors are normal, but along with teaching how to express and deal with these feelings, it is important to also teach children to take responsibility for their actions. Whether it is cleaning up a mess they made, repairing or replacing possessions or a simple apology, help your child understand how their actions affect others. Teach them citizenship and respect.

Every parent wants their child to be happy and to build positive relationships with others. In order to do that, we need to teach them how to deal with the tough stuff. Hurt and pain are a part of life and teaching your child not only how to express these feelings, but why it is important and healthy can help turn frowns upside down and better prepare them to handle future hurts.

Remember that misbehaviors are opportunities to listen to, care for and teach your child. Responding appropriately will help you model and reinforce positive behavior patterns, strengthen your communication with your child and increase the quality of your interactions.

For more information about positive discipline, child development, academic success or parenting and life skills development, please visit the Michigan State University Extension website. Don’t forget to check out the upcoming article on display of inadequacy.

Other articles in this series:

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