Behaviour org uk

How Parents Create 'Badly' Behaved Children
And How To Reverse the Process


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Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17
Chapter 18
Chapter 19
Chapter 20
Chapter 21
Chapter 22
Chapter 23
Chapter 24
Chapter 25
Chapter 26
Chapter 27
Chapter 28
Chapter 29
Chapter 30
Chapter 31
Chapter 32
Chapter 33
Chapter 34
Chapter 35
Chapter 36
Chapter 37
Chapter 38
Chapter 39
Chapter 40
Chapter 41
Chapter 42
Chapter 43
Chapter 44
Chapter 45
Chapter 46
Chapter 47
Chapter 48
Chapter 49
Chapter 50
Restoring Childhood
How We Create 'Badly' Behaved Children
©Copyright Warwick Dyer 2016
(Copyright Unedited Beta Version)
(To be read online only)

Book One

Chapter 7

Parental love - too much attention - too little attention

Not all parents love their children. The proportion that doesn’t is probably very small but my guess is that it is higher among those parents with ‘badly’ behaving children. Perhaps their children’s behaviour has pushed the love from their hearts but more likely their lack of affection was the reason their child began their attention seeking behaviour in the first place. A few of the parents I have had dealings with have admitted their lack of love but generally parents are unlikely to admit it even to themselves. Some have an inability to understand the devastating effect lack of warmth has on their children or think it can be justified by failings in their child. The intellectual or emotional justifications that they proffer are always entirely bogus. Perhaps such parents will never be able to generate the affection their children need and perhaps all we can expect from them is that they do not see themselves as the victims or blame their children for the attention seeking behaviour that their lack of warmth will inevitably generate.

Parents need to remember that love is invisible

Happily most parents do love their children. Most are of course absolutely certain of it and just as certain that their children know it. However these parents often need to question their certainty, they forget that their feelings are completely invisible to a child. They forget that there is only one thing that can tell their child how they feel about them and that is the way they behave when they are with them.

For children, love, just like everything else in their lives, is a very practical matter. Love is not a one-size-fits-all concept. Children do not deal in concepts. Love, for a child, does not exist only because their parents tell them it does. For them, how their parents feel about them is always demonstrated, it is demonstrated daily. For children, love is shown in the tone of their parent’s voice in interactions with them. It is shown in the ratio of negative to positive comments that their parents make. It is shown by their place in the list of priorities preoccupying their parents. A parent can tell a child that they love them as much as they like, but once a child begins to feel that they are very low on their parent’s list of priorities they begin to feel unloved. Being told you are loved is meaningless if your parent’s priority is clearly always something other than you. Children notice the ferocity or alacrity with which their parents protect another sibling. They notice how parents allow themselves to be there but not there; never really accessible, always busy with the concerns of their jobs. They work out the real priority of house-proud parents who constantly choose precision and order over their child’s need to be a child. I have met many parents like this – parents who think the home belongs to them alone, not to their children also. They talk of ‘my house’ or ‘my flat’, even to their children. They struggle to accept their child’s disorganising presence within the home because they have not fully accepted their child’s right to call it home.

So my advice to parents experiencing difficulties with behaviour would be to throw away all certainty that because of the strength of their love their children have no doubt about how much they love them. For many of the parents I come in contact with this certainty is either completely misplaced or describes emotions that no longer have any correspondence in their children’s daily lives. Many of their children have no such sense of certainty. Their reality is demonstrated and validated each and every day by the tone and content of their parent’s negative interactions with them.

Dedicating ourselves to our children and their need to learn to wait

Whilst there can and should be no limit on how much we love our children there does sometimes have to be a limit on the ways in which we show it. The love we show to our children needs to have a realistic balance. For some of parents I have worked with the problem was not their children being too low a priority but quiet the reverse. A child becomes just as insecure if he or she feels they are dependent on someone who appears overly dependent on them. This is especially true if the level of attention given is so high that it is impossible to maintain and will eventually have to be withdrawn.

The parent of a 4-year-old boy that I have been working with for only a couple of weeks told me that she did not want to continue. Her husband was always more sure that they needed help than she was. They have a four-year-old boy and she tells me that she is “not prepared to use threats and bully my child”.

What did she mean by this? She meant that she was not prepared to follow two of my suggestions: first, that she ask her son to do some things for himself – get the puzzle box out - before she gave him her attention and second, that she give her son her attention only when her son requested it, not when he rudely demanded it and threatened her.

This advice was designed to gradually begin to combat a serious but not uncommon problem. These parents had come to me with a boy who would insist on constant, unremitting, one-to-one attention and entertainment from his mother from the moment he woke until the moment he went to sleep. Parents can sometimes become completely beguiled by the strength of their child’s apparent need for them. Many of the more serious cases of violent behaviour I have handled came about because parents were like this one, and started out by giving their child unsustainable levels of attention. This boy’s mother had effectively allowed him to reverse roles with her and become a tyrannical parent. He threatened and bullied her all day in pursuit of an insatiable need for close contact and attention. There are some parents who see constantly being at the shoulder of their child as a sign of love. Or there are others who perhaps think that their instant response and constant teaching will produce a child prodigy.

Parents cannot afford to a miss a clear point of transition for their child. Around the time when a child becomes mobile perhaps even a little before parents need to realise that a subtle change in the way they respond is required. Dropping what you are doing to minister to the needs of a baby is often necessary they only have their basic ‘on’ ‘off’ switch but older children desperately need to learn that sometimes, particularly if they have just had a lot of attention, one has to wait. Yes, in reality, we do still need to pause what we are doing every time and attend to a toddler seeking attention but we need to train them that we cannot always be seated beside them watching what they are doing and interacting. They must never think that this type of attention will always be immediate. It is unrealistic and more important unsustainable if we train a toddler that we will drop what we are doing and sit with them whenever they ask. Whist it is important that we immediately, softly, warmly, let them know that we have heard that they want us we must also be able to tell them that we will be not be able to do what they want until after lunch or that ‘mummy needs to do such and such first’.

‘Bad’ behaviour is always caused by what parents do (or don’t do)

©Copyright Warwick Dyer 2016

Perhaps some parents think the strength of their child’s apparent need for them and the strength of their own desire to be maternal or paternal justifies them giving constant and immediate one to one attention. Parents cannot afford to believe this. They cannot afford to believe that asking a child to start to do some things by themselves before they joined them, or insisting that children ask rather than demand amounts to threatening and bullying. It is essential that parents train their children to fit into the real world. For a parent to be continually available ‘on demand’ when rudely summoned is not a sign of love; neither is our children’s insatiable desire for constant or immediate attention a sign of their love for us. Expressions of love have to be judged by their effects. The parents I spoke of had created a child with unsustainable expectations. They had created a child whom it was never possible to satisfy and child who was, therefore, always unhappy.

All children need a key ability that all parents need to teach. It is the ability to wait. No parent can afford to believe that insisting on this constitutes threatening or bullying or think that adherence to this belief or any other can outweigh the evidence of their own eyes. They have to notice the reversal of roles involved when in an attempt not to invoke their right to insist results in that right being transferred to their child. Inappropriate behaviour continues only when parental responses are inadequate or inappropriate. The fact that a child cannot accept being on their own and always feels the need for constant attention should tell parents that they are getting something seriously wrong. Strange or insecure behaviour cannot coexist with good parenting. Strange behaviour must always be considered serious enough to countermand any principle the parent thinks they are following. So as in this case when our children begin to turn into addicts with ourselves as the drug then our actions cease to be a sign of love. In fact the moment anything we are doing starts to make our child less able to function outside the home it ceases to be a sign of love. We need to be watchful and notice when the way we interact is producing a strange, lonely or unhappy child. An indiscriminate desire to give can be even more self-serving and selfish on the part of a parent than a desire to take.

What was really sad for this parent was that she probably put up with her son’s behaviour partly because she thought it stemmed from his love for her. It would become increasingly hard for her to continue to believe this. If children are allowed to demand then it is inevitable that their demands will begin to escalate and it is likely that the way they insist will become more physical. Give children power over our parental behaviour and they will almost certainly misuse it. Give them overt power over our attention and the amount they demand will increase exponentially. What happens then? Eventually no matter how willingly parents gave it in the first place eventually they all begin to give their attention reluctantly.

How does reluctant attention feel?

A parent is drying her hair at her dressing table. Her 6-year-old son, who has come into the room without her seeing him, announces himself with startling “Boo” although he has often been told not to do this. She does not want to start the day on the wrong foot, so greets him warmly without commenting on his greeting. Soon afterwards he climbs on her lap even though she is in the middle of drying and fixing her hair.

The fact that many parents begin to resent their child’s apparent lack of consideration and empathy probably stems from acts of misguided and reluctant selflessness, such as this. Children only expect parents to allow them to invade their space at the wrong time like this because parents have not trained them to wait. This parent did not gently say that she was busy at the moment – drying her hair – and that her son would be able to get on her lap for a moment a little later. The specialness and closeness of this boy’s time on his mother’s lap will be quickly lost if it is allowed to be constantly ‘on tap’. This is especially true if it is allowed to happen when it is clearly inconvenient. Parents who begin to think their child does not appreciate all they do for them fail to realise that their increasing demands always come from deficiencies in training. They forget that they originally allowed themselves to become reluctantly selfless in this way. Parents have told me - “I have devoted my time exclusively to him”; “I am constantly with him and giving praise” always adding comments like “it isn’t practical to be joined at the hip with him.”

Parents continuing to be ‘on demand’ at unreasonable times

Continuing to be ‘on demand’ at unreasonable times is the parent’s choice but it can quickly begin to feel as if it was the child’s fault. There can be few things more harmful to a relationship than a parent allowing a child to cuddle them at a time when they feel no warmth towards them.

“My daughter is six, and is terribly willful, rude and disobedient, and simply mocks my husband and myself … When she looks at me sometimes, with a mocking look in her eyes, she really scares me. She looks so much older and wiser than her years, and I do not feel close to her, although in a split second she is cuddling me and saying how sorry she is and that she loves me. I really do not know how to cope anymore.”

Reluctant attention is bad enough; reluctant warmth can only be perceived by the child as a graphic, cold, pernicious form of sarcasm. Her child cannot fail to notice the cold feelings behind any physical contact she now has with her mother. This lady thinks she is giving selflessly to her daughter and that her daughter is forcing her to show affection. What she fails to realise is that her daughter will increasingly experience these contacts with her mother as a massive emotional subtraction. Parents like these need stop thinking that giving apparent warmth that they are not actually feeling is being selfless. They need to think how reluctant physical contact actually feels for a child. They desperately need to take control of the practicalities of their interactions with their children. Gently declining physical contact can be done with affection and warmth but giving contact reluctantly can never be experienced as anything other than coolness.

I have to keep reminding the parents I speak to that when relationships are allowed to break down the true victims are their children. This mother lacks or is losing her feeling of closeness to her daughter. She is convinced that her child’s ‘bad’ behaviour predates her loss of warmth. She does not realise that, although re-establishing her warmth may not be enough to change her daughter’s behaviour by itself it will go a long way towards it and her daughter will never be able to change without it. Children instinctively abhor an emotional vacuum and will try to get any kind of emotion and attention from an emotionally ‘cool’ parent and use any method that works. Children with ‘cool’ parents actually prefer them to become angry.

Another parent had an 11-year-old child who would strike her with whatever was at hand whenever he felt unfairly treated. As he felt unfairly treated most of the time, his violence was constant.

When parents like this boy’s mother recite the litany of behaviour enacted by their children against them, it is difficult to think it even possible that they are not the real victims within the home. When I began to work with this boy’s parents his mother had developed a serious dislike, perhaps even a hatred, for her son. After I had been working with them for a few weeks I was surprised to discover that the change in her feelings about her son had predated his violence.

I discovered that from when he was very small his mother had provided unrelenting and what turned out to be unrealistic attention. Unrealistic because it built an expectation that was bound to be dashed when circumstances changed. When another child was born it became impossible for her to continue providing attention at anything like the previous level. Her son, who was four at the time, naturally reacted to this. She remembered this as the time she stopped loving him. The reason she gave showed that, in spite of a working at a very high professional level with behaviour problems herself, she failed to apply her knowledge of the developmental capabilities of a 4-year-old child. She said that she stopped loving her son because he did not “appreciate what she was doing for him”. What she should have said was that he did not appreciate what she had done for him but could no longer do.

It is not realistic to expect your child to feel
both love and appreciation for you

©Copyright Warwick Dyer 2016

No parent should ever accuse a child of lack of appreciation. Young children instinctively take parental care for granted. It is part of the deal. The reason they feel loved is that they constantly observe the joy their existence gives to their parents. Their parents show them every day the joy caring for them gives them. If the parent loves having them around why would a child think they need to show appreciation for it? Why would a parent seek it? If parents give the impression that caring for them is a chore why would their children feel loved? To feel appreciation they would have to accept that for their parents looking after them is not a joy but a chore, an inconvenience, a self-denying act of selflessness.

It can never be right to be overly giving if it produces children with no awareness that there are limits on the time and energy of the people around them. It can never be right to be overly giving without ever considering that things might change in the future in a way that makes the amount of attention we give impossible. Another child may be born, our job may take up more time, a partner may become sick, or we may become sick ourselves. These changes will mean nothing to the child if all he or she has known is a constant supply of on-tap undivided attention. Sadly, when the penny starts to drop, parents do not blame themselves they begin to resent the apparently selfish demands of their children. Then they fail to see that attention now being reluctantly given will never satisfy a child. Children that begin to feel insecure about their bond with their parent just seek more attention. It does not matter how much reluctant attention a parent gives the child will continually to strive for more. If they are reluctant to give attention then for their child’s ‘bad’ behaviour becomes the one sure fire way of receiving it.

Filling time - the child’s creative engine

Parents often forget how much time contented babies spend awake lying on their backs moving their arms and legs and looking at what can be seen and not requiring attention. All toddlers need to remember or relearn that their free time is in fact theirs and that it is their responsibility to fill and not their parent’s. They do not, as some of the children I work with believe, have a right not to be bored. It is not the parent’s job to constantly entertain. Parents are of course constantly monitoring but they should not always be constantly interacting. They will of course often make suggestions but it is developmentally important that the problem of filling a child’s time is not allowed to shift from the child to the parent. It must always remain the child’s problem.

Boredom acts as a creative engine for children and they should never believe it to be somebody else’s problem. To become independent, children need to learn to be happy in their own company and their own skins. They need to learn that their time is theirs and not anybody else’s. Learning to fill it and combat boredom is developmentally essential. Too constant parental attention interferes with the child’s crucial development activity, namely ‘play’. Without free time and the free choice to do what they want, children cannot be said to be ‘playing’.

Real play involves the child learning to generate their own choices and can occur by themselves or with other children. It cannot occur if the child has constant interaction with a parent. A parent often finding time to ‘play with’ a child is essential but it should not be thought that this is real ‘play’. It is even more important that they sometimes insist that their children find ways to entertain themselves.

The opposite pole - parents being there but not being there

Good parenting is always about balance and constant attention causes an imbalance but, of course so does too little. “It was my turn to have some free time and it was Michael’s turn to keep the children (twin boys of six) happy. It was a nightmare. I was trying to read on the beach and the boys kept interrupting me for increasingly ridiculous reasons. We had a terrible afternoon.” An arrangement like this can only work if the parent with free time is not physically present. With both parents in attendance, young children will never understand this arrangement or be able to conform to it. Adults would never dream of having a rule like this for adult friends, yet they expect their children to accept it and not feel slighted by it. Parents cannot expect to be in the same room or space as their children and not give them attention. Their attempts to preserve their pre-child self can never take precedence over this fact of parenting life. Parents who try to ration their attention too much create children who demand even more and they always discover the one infallible way of getting attention. They behave ‘badly’ or unreasonably.

When, the next day, this parent showed interest and responded to everything her children said, she was amazed at how quickly they began to leave her and play on their own without needing her attention. Children have the right to attention, but more importantly they have the power to make sure they get it. The only question is: will it be gained in an approved way or not? Children need attention the parents job is to train them how to get it

Parents should never attempt to control the fact that a child needs attention; this cannot be controlled. Their job is to control how children go about getting attention as in this next example.

“She talks constantly, and I do mean non-stop. She starts a sentence and clearly has no idea how it will end. You can see her scrabbling around to try to find a way to end it that makes some sort of sense. A lot of what she says that does make sense is pointless because it is so obvious.”

I have come across a lot of children like this in my time. Sometimes they have been a lot worse in that they may constantly ‘hold forth’ to the room in an opinionated, aggressive way: not the gentle talking to oneself that many children do before they go to sleep, but a constant, aggressive discourse directed at no one in particular. I was at a wedding recently with a child exactly like this, and she was clearly waiting for something to happen. One look at her angrily stoic mother was all that was needed to work out what this was. The cause of this problem is the absolute reverse of what parents think it is. Since they are being forced to attend to their child’s constant talking they never guess that the cause of the problem is their lack of attention. The more these children talk, the less the people around them actually listen to what they say. The solution is very simple. It is for parents to take the time to really listen and respond to everything they say, or tell them when they will listen, for example: “Don’t tell me that now, Mary. Get your clothes on first and then come and tell me.” If parents really listen and are interested and respond to everything their child says, rather than just nodding while really thinking about something else, their child’s need to talk constantly will quickly diminish.

There is, it seems, a natural law at play here to which all interactions with children conform. The less freely attention is given the less satisfying it is; the less satisfying it is the more attention children seek. In other words the strength of the child’s need for attention increases with their parents reluctance to give it. Turn this round and we can say that the more freely parents give attention the less attention their children need.

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©Copyright Warwick Dyer 2016

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