In A Better You

Misbehaviour or “Me” Behaviour

Written to help you understand why behaviour occurs. For the purpose of this paper, behaviour is defined as the observable, measurable, action done by an individual. There are different types of behaviour including:

Behave Yourself!

Some of our favorite songs and movies are about children or youth whose behaviour is inappropriate: Breakfast Club; Dennis the Menace; Charlie Brown, He’s a Clown; Bad, Bad Leroy Brown; and many more. We root for the rebel. We laugh when someone else receives justice. Yet, in real life, rebellion or inappropriate behaviour is not funny. As parents, we become frustrated with the PC—problem child. This is especially true if our other children behave appropriately and, although not perfect, are capable of attending a social function without the authorities being summoned.

But there’s that one kid. There is always that one kid that is just going to push the envelope. He might not even break the rules. He just comes so close that his parents fear the end result. Every time he leaves the house, one or both parents tell him to ‘behave’ in some form. Mother has cried, “Please stop doing these things.” She has used guilt. “You are going to put your father and me in an early grave.” Dad has reasoned. “Son, intelligent people don’t take risks like that.” He has threatened. “Keep it up, Son. You won’t live to see 21.” Still this kid continues on his path of what looks like self-destruction. Well—maybe not. Let’s look closer.

Telling a kid to ‘behave’ assumes that he knows how to behave. “Well we tell him what not to do.” Exactly. Have you ever told him what to do? Parents tell their child ‘don’t touch that,’ ‘leave that alone,’ ‘don’t bother that.’ But they fail to tell the kid what he should do instead.

True Story

Ronald was a kid from the wrong side of the tracks, wrong side of town, and usually got up on the wrong side of the bed. He was intelligent, yet made no effort to apply himself in school. Trouble started in sixth grade. Ronald broke rule after rule. Finally he was expelled to the Discipline Alternative Education Program (DAEP). After serving his ‘sentence’, he returned to school with behaviour not even almost broken. Seventh grade proved no different. By the end of eighth grade, Ronald had made a name for himself at the DAEP as well as his home campus.

His junior year started like all the others. Within weeks, he was sent to an administrator with a disciplinary referral. She flew into a rage. “I’m tired of you misbehaving.” Ronald rolled his eyes. Out of frustration, she said, “I don’t think you mean to do these things. I think you just don’t know what to do instead. So I’m changing your schedule to include Teen Leadership class. You’ll keep taking it until you learn how to behave.” Ronald rolled his eyes. However, within four weeks, the administrator started receiving reports from teachers that Ronald had made a complete change. He had a good attitude and was applying himself in school.

Ronald was a different kid his senior year. The year progressed without one disciplinary referral and the teachers celebrated his academic and behavioural graduation.

Why Does He Misbehave?

He misbehaves for the same reason he does anything. We all behave in certain ways because it achieves a goal.

There are only two reasons for any behaviour:

  • Gain something desirable.
  • Avoid something undesirable.

Why do you go to work? To get a paycheck.

Why do you drive the speed limit? To avoid a citation.

Why do you turn on the light? To gain better vision.

Why do you eat? To avoid your body shutting or to gain pleasure.

No matter what the behaviour, it was done to either gain or avoid something.

Point A:

Small child asks for candy in the store. Her parent says ‘no’, the child cries, and the parent buys the candy.

  • Child’s purpose—to gain candy.
  • Parent’s purpose—to gain silence or avoid embarrassment.

Katherine’s mother wanted her to stay home. Katherine wanted to go out with friends. Katherine’s mother feigned a fainting spell. Katherine cancelled her plans.

  • Mother’s purpose—to gain Katherine’s company.
  • Katherine’s purpose—to avoid the feeling of guilt.

The school bully harasses a student every day. The other child cries. The behaviour continues.

  • Bully’s purpose—gain power.
  • Child’s purpose—avoid bullying.

In the three points, each person got what they wanted or avoided what they didn’t want. They will continue to engage in the behaviour as long as it gives them what they want. When the behaviour stops eliciting the desired reaction, the behaviour will stop. behaviour continues only as long as it achieves its purpose.

Point B:

Child cries for candy. Parent doesn’t buy candy. Child cries louder. Parent ignores cries. Eventually the child learns that her behaviour no longer works and stops wasting time crying.

Katherine’s mother feigns a fainting spell. Katherine lovingly tells her, “I hope you feel better.” Then she leaves with her friends. After a few times, Katherine’s mother will stop pretending illness, because it doesn’t keep Katherine at home.

One day bully harasses student, student doesn’t cry. Bully received no pleasure, bullying stopped.

MisBehaving or MeBehaving? The Kid’s Perspective.

Misbehaving means to behave inappropriately. If the behaviour is meeting my needs or achieving my goal, it’s not misbehaving. The behaviour is working for me, so it’s mebehaving. Mebehaviour is behaviour that focuses on ME. When that focus is removed or diverted, I will no longer have my goals met and must change my behaviour.

As long as the behaviour is working for me, I will continue to engage in mebehaviour.

So What Can Parents do about it? The Parent’s Perspective.

In essence, stop meeting the need when that behaviour is exhibited. Well, that seems like a stupid answer. You’re right, it does. But it is pretty simple. When you stop reacting to the behaviour, the behaviour will change.

True Story

Each time Stephen was instructed to clean his room, he replied, “It is clean.” So one day his mother asked, “Is your room clean?” “Yes, it’s clean.” “I want to scrub the floor. Anything that’s on the floor when I get in there will be thrown away.” Stephen jumped off the couch like one of the springs broke. “Wait, I need to do more cleaning. Do something else while I go check it out.”

Stephen’s behaviour failed to get what he wanted—time at the video game. He could have gotten it, but the cost was too high. His mother refused to argue with him, get upset, or have that mess in her house. So she upped the ante. She would let him clean his room the way he wanted and then she would finish it. Only she would throw everything away. That was too high a price to pay.


If a child or youth is making your life miserable, causing conflict in the home, or just not moving in a direction that will make him happy later in life, something needs to change. The behaviour will not end until it no longer meets the goal.

Before you administer disciplinary measures, remove privileges, or lose your mind, determine what goal the behaviour is meeting. Here are just a few to consider

Positive or negative attention Chores
Pleasure from activity Difficult tasks
Pleasure initiating conflict Attention
Obtain tangible item: drink, food, or other object Particular objects or events
Secondary value: get warm or cold. Internal stimulation: illness, discomfort, anxiety.

Any behaviour can be stopped if you know the payoff. First determine what the child or youth is getting from the behaviour. Once that is determined, stop the payoff.

  • If the payoff is gaining attention—ignore him until the behaviour stops. Then pay attention. He will learn that he gets more attention by not engaging in the behaviour.
  • If the payoff is avoiding chores, make the consequence more undesirable than the chores. He doesn’t make his bed—remove his bed from the room. After a couple of night of sleeping on the floor, he will enjoy making his bed.

These are just a few examples to help you understand the relationship between behaviour and payoff. Think about this—if you didn’t get paid, you wouldn’t go to work. If you stop paying the child—he will stop the behaviour. No one—child or adult—continues behaviour unless they get something from it.

Stop the payoff. Stop the behaviour.

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