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Misbehavior and Positive Discipline

On her book Positive Discipline, Dr. Jane Nelsen states that a child’s main objective is to feel belonging and significance. This can sometimes lead to misguided beliefs and misbehaviors as poor attempts from to child to achieve a goal. She identifies the reasons behind misbehaviors and proposes different approaches to overcome these challenges while being kind (respectful) and firm and using encouragement (not praise) to do so.

Note: contrary to my initial thought, positive discipline has nothing to do with permissiveness, but relies on logical consequences and other tools to deal with common behavior issues.

According to Dr. Nelsen, the four mistaken beliefs and mistaken goals of behavior are:

1. Undue attention – The mistaken belief: “I belong only when I have your attention.”

2. Misguided power – The mistaken belief: “I belong only when I’m the boss, or at least when I don’t let you boss me around.”

3. Revenge - Mistaken belief: “I don’t belong, but at least I can hurt back.”

4. Assumed inadequacy – Mistaken belief: “It is impossible to belong. I give up.”

Below is a chart from her book with suggestions to identify the origin of the misbehavior and how to deal with it in an effective manner.

As part of their development, children sometimes struggle to verbally communicate exactly what they need (just like many adults), and therefore, assume sometimes misguided behaviors trying to achieve their goal.

As Dr. Nelsen puts “a misbehaving child is a discouraged child” and our role as the grownups is to assist and guide them to develop their self-esteem, self-discipline, responsibility and more.

If you haven’t read yet, I highly recommend the book “Positive Discipline: The classic guide to helping children develop self-discipline, responsibility, cooperation, and problem-solving skills” by Jane Nelsen Ed.D.


Sensei Leandro Lorenco

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