Discouraged Child Part II


TreeBelongingLast week I introduced to you the Positive Discipline psychology which features countless models outlining basic human needs. Dr. Alfred Adler distilled these down to four for children. Now, I will concentrate on the first one:

Belonging and Significance.

In our live workshops, we demonstrate this with a drawing of a tree. A healthy tree has roots and needs the usual elements for growth, always reaching towards the sun. The sun is the life-giving warmth of a sense of Belonging and Significance.

Naturally, life is comprised of experiences, perceived as pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. Adler referred to children experiencing encouragement or discouragement. Rest assured. It is not all about you as the source or cause of this determination. Whether a child feels discouraged or encouraged has much to do with the temperament of that child (more on this in another post), their personality and other factors.

When a child feels discouraged, she or he feels cut off from the sun, the source of life and security, and so the child acts in ways that we call mis-behavavior. She feels discouraged and is actually trying desperately to get back to the sun (notice how plants do the same) in the only way she knows how. To demonstrate this crucial point, here is an anecdote shared by a graduate of a parenting course of ours:

Preface. They have a 6-week-old baby.  Yesterday, 5-year-old  Tommy got more and more challenging as the day progressed. By the end of the day his “wiggles” were in full swing and his two-year-old brother Josh was bearing the brunt of his bad mood. They’d play nicely for a while and then Tommy would hit, slap or push Josh. At the same time Tommy had been calling his dad and me stupid and saying he hates us all day. This tension in Tommy has been building up for a week, with many sweet moments but also some really challenging ones. And yesterday evening right as they were going to bed, the boys were wrestling and having fun and then suddenly Tommy sort of bit Josh in the mouth. Josh was bleeding and Luke (my husband) and I just had had enough with Tommy. We were both stern with him and Tommy was laughing and crying and wiggling around and saying we were stupid and he didn’t care. Luke was first really mad at Tommy, then held him and talk to him about why it was not OK to hurt his brother, and then sort of ignored him while he took care of Josh. I first took care of Josh and then I switched with Luke and started telling Tommy that it was not OK to hurt his brother, blah blah blah. I could tell that what we were doing wasn’t super and wasn’t working at all, but we were tired and fed up and honestly I couldn’t think of what else to do.  Tommy’s behavior was exasperating and all the ideas I had were not working.

It’s around this time that the mantra of ” a misbehaving child is a discouraged child” pops into my head. But It feels VERY counter intuitive for me  to think of Tommy as needing more love instead of harsh words or strong boundaries, but I  pull myself together and try to hold Tommy and try to remember that he’s not feeling well and that’s why he’s behaving this way. Changing my behavior feels like lifting a very heavy weight, nearly impossible but I just rather all my strength and force myself to do it.

Meanwhile Tommy is swinging on his bed and then he suddenly flips back and hits his head hard.  He starts to cry. Luke puts the swing away, which makes Tommy really mad. I then just  hold Tommy and try to reflect his feelings back to him. “You’re really mad” etc etc and then suddenly Tommy  melts into my arms and begins to sob, deep, deep sobs,  he says his body doesn’t feel good, that his body wants to hit Josh. I keep reflecting and asking questions about his body, and he cries and cries and somehow it becomes very clear that Tommy just needs his daddy and doesn’t want to share him with Josh (and though he always insists he LOVES the baby the most and that Josh is the problem, I’m pretty sure somewhere he doesn’t want to share his dad with her either). At this point Luke is trying to clean the kitchen and is super fed up with Tommy, but we go to him together and we ask together if Tommy can as an exception go to bed alone with Daddy and Tommy asks for extra snuggles. Luke (god bless him) overcomes his annoyance and lets go of the need to clean and brings Tommy to bed.  I put Josh and baby to sleep, which takes about 5 minutes and then tidy up (normally I bring all three to bed while Luke cleans).  Tommy goes to sleep with his dad and is very happy. /*Names changed

This morning I had an extremely delightful, happy and surprisingly helpful little boy in front of me who is playing sweetly with his little brother.


A happy graduate of a PeaceWorks Parenting course


Give us one example of an incident in the last week where one of your child seemed to feel DIS-COURAGED and one where they seemed to feel ENCOURAGED.



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