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Question:

How do you handle a 9 year old boy who defecates in his pants during the school day (each day) with no medical cause identified?
 

Answer:

To do justice to this question I would need much more information. Since I don't know more, I can only make some guesses. Sometimes soiling pants is an indication of sexual abuse. Sometimes a child who soils is passively aggressively saying, "You can't control my bowel movements." if a parent is being too controlling. Sometimes children start soiling their pants when a new child is born into the family. They have adopted the belief that the baby is loved more, and mistakenly believe acting like a baby might help them receive more love. Sometimes children feel neglected. This hurts. Soiling is way of hurting back or of getting some attention. Even negative attention is better than none.

As you can see, I can't answer adequately without knowing what else is going on in this child's life. Ido know that a misbehaving child is a discouraged child. This child needs encouragement -- not punishment. Even though it will make this answer very long, I'm going to include a piece I just finished for our soon to be published book, Positive Discipline in the Classroom A Teacher's A-Z.

You may be able to see how an understanding of the Four Mistaken Goals of Misbehavior could help with your concern:

HATS TO BREAK THE CODE OF THE FOUR MISTAKEN GOALS OF MISBEHAVIOR

DISCUSSION

There is a belief behind every behavior. Too of ten we deal only with the behavior, which is futile when we don't also try to understand the motivating belief. Rudolf Dreikurs taught that "a misbehaving child is a discouraged child." A misbehaving child is discouraged because she does not believe she belongs. She does not believe she is significant. Out of this discouragement, she chooses a mistaken goal (behavior) in a misguided attempt to gain belonging and significance. The goal is mistaken because it is based on a mistaken belief, and the behavior usually invites from other the opposite of what she is trying to achieve. She wants belonging and significance, yet misbehavior usually invites adults and other children to push her away instead of giving her what she wants --to be pulled in.

Dreikurs identified the Four Mistaken Goals of Behaviors:

1. UNDUE ATTENTION
2. POWER
3. REVENGE
4. ASSUMED DISABILITY or GIVING UP

There are three clues to understanding the child's goal.


1. your feelings,
2. your reactive actions, and
3. the child's response to your reactive actions.


Once we understand the goal there are ways to encourage the child. Punishment is not effective because it intensifies the discouragement and thus invites continued misbehavior.

MESSAGE HATS TO BREAK THE CODE

In our Positive Discipline Workshops we use "message hats" to help parents and teachers remember that there is a coded message behind misbehavior. (The message behind all misbehavior is, "I am a child, and I just want to belong.")

ATTENTION

The hat that represents undue attention is a large straw hat decorated with flowers and bells and a large sign that says, "Notice Me. Involve Me." When you respond to this message you will find many other ways to encourage the child who seeks undue attention.

The discouraging belief that motivates a child seeking undue attention is, "I belong only if you pay constant attention to me." Everyone wants attention, but there is difference between wanting attention and needing attention to prove your worth. There is also a difference between attention that is useful and constructive and attention that is useless and destructive.

When adults react to the behavior instead of understanding the motivating belief, they feel annoyed, irritated, worried, or guilty. (This is the first clue that the child's mistaken goal is attention.)They tend to react by reminding, coaxing, or doing things for children that they could do for themselves. (This is the second clue.) The usual child's response will be to stop seeking undue attention temporarily, but will soon start again until encouraged. (This is the third clue.)

SUGGESTIONS:

1. You can be encouraging to children when you understand the mistaken goal (based on a mistaken belief) and when you respond to the message on their make believe hats.
2. One way to encourage children who seek undue attention is simply to help them find attention in ways that are constructive. Give them jobs, let them teach lessons, invite them to tutor others.
3. Allow time for children to share their feelings, thoughts, and ideas. It is also effective to ignore the misbehavior while flashing a loving wink or putting your hand on the child's shoulder.(This paying loving attention to the child while ignoring the misbehavior for the moment. Help the child think of other ways to gain constructive attention later.)
4. Kindness with firmness is very effective. The kindness says, "I care about you and will give you respectful attention." The firmness says, "I don't buy into your belief that you need undue attention."

POWER

The "message hat" for power is a hard hat with a large sign that says, "Let me help. Give me choices." When you respond to this message you will find many other ways to encourage the child who uses negative power.

Everyone wants power, but there is difference between power that is useful and constructive and power that is useless and destructive.

When adults react to the behavior of the power hungry child instead of understanding the motivating belief, they feel angry, challenged, threatened, or defeated. (Clue No. 1.) They tend to react by fighting, giving in, wanting to be right, or trying to control the child into "proper" behavior. (ClueNo.2.) The child's response is to intensify defiant behavior or become passive aggressive. (Clue No.3.)

SUGGESTIONS

1. One way to encourage children who seek power is ask for their help.
2. It is very effective to admit you have been trying to control them, declare you don't want to do that anymore -- and that to stop this pattern you need their help.
3. Give them choices and invite them to join the class in setting up rules, limits, and routines.
4. Encourage them to put concerns on the class meeting agenda or to take some positive time out to allow for a cooling off period.
5. Many of the suggestions made above for undue attention seeking children are effective to help power hungry children us their power constructively. They can tutor other children, teach lessons, and undertake meaningful classroom jobs.
6. Kindness with firmness is very effective. The kindness says, "I care about you and appreciate respectful power." The firmness says, "I won't let you use power to dominate others." (Many teachers have to learn this for themselves before they can teach it to children.)
7. Class meetings can help everyone use power constructively through the process of finding non-punitive solutions.

REVENGE

The "message hat" for revenge is a baseball hat turned backwards with a large sign that says,"Help me. I'm hurting." When you respond to this message you will find many other ways to help the child who seeks revenge.

The discouraging belief that motivates a child seeking revenge is, "I don't belong and that hurts, but at least I can get even." It seems to be a gut reaction in human beings to want to hurt back when we feel hurt. The tricky part here is that sometimes the child feels hurt by something that was done unintentional. For example, children often feel hurt (at a subconscious level) when a new baby is born. We know children who have felt hurt because a teacher took time off to go to a workshop. Sometimes reasons are more obvious. Foster children usually feel hurt because they feel abandoned by their parents. They often take revenge on anyone who comes in their path, such as foster parents or teachers who didn't do anything to hurt them.

When adults react to the hurtful behavior instead of understanding the motivating belief,they feel hurt, disappointed, disbelieving, or disgusted.

(Clue No. 1.)

They tend to react by retaliating through punishment, or trying to make the child feel guilty through a "How could you do such a thing?" lecture. (Clue No. 2)

The child's response is to escalate the war by hurting others,property, or you even more until he or she feels encouraged.

(Clue No. 3.)

SUGGESTIONS

1. One way to encourage children who are into revenge is to deal with the hurt feelings.Sometimes you have to guess what they might be feeling hurt about. You might say, "I feel hurt by what happened, so I'm guessing you must feel hurt. Would you be willing to tell me what hurt you?" It is important not to dwell on your hurt except as a clue that the child feels hurt. Use reflective listening, make amends, show you care. Share times when you have felt hurt by others.
2. Kindness with firmness is very effective. The kindness says, "I don't want to hurt you or for others to hurt you." The firmness says, "I don't want to let you hurt me or others either."
3. This child will benefit (as do all children) from hearing compliments during class meetings. (Be sure that a child who is engaging in hurtful behavior is assigned a "secret pal" who will look for positive things about this child to use as compliments.)

ASSUMED DISABILITY or GIVING UP

The "message hat" for assumed disability (giving up) is a ski hat pulled down over the eyes with a large sign that says, "Have faith in me. Don't give up on me." When you respond to this message you will find many other ways to help the child who assumes he or she is inadequate and wants to give up.

The discouraging belief that motivates a child who wants to give up is, "I can't belong. I give up. Leave me alone." Sometimes the undue attention seeking children act like they are inadequate, but the difference is that they don't want you to leave them alone.

When adults react to the behavior instead of understanding the motivating belief, they feel despair, hopeless, helpless and inadequate.(Clue No. 1.)

They tend to react by giving up just like the child, or over helping. (Clue No. 2.)

The child's response will be to retreat further, be passive, and avoid responding. (Clue No. 3.)

SUGGESTIONS

1. One way to encourage children who want to give up is to take small steps to re-teach. Don't give up. Be persistent. (Sometimes this child will do something just to get you to leave her alone. In the process, however, she experiences some success and feels encouraged.)
2. Stop all criticism, focus on assets, and avoid pity or discouragement.
3. Invite the child to choose (or assign) a peer tutor.
4. Build on his or her interests. Incorporate them into lesson plans as motivators.
5. Kindness with firmness is very effective. The kindness says, "I understand your discouragement." The firmness says, "I have faith in you and won't give up on you."

INSPIRATIONAL STORY

Workshop participants were asked to role play, first the reactive feelings and actions of adults when faced with a misbehavior, and then effective actions adults can take when they understand the goal and respond to the message on the hat. During the first part of a role play, a parent responded to a child interrupting on the phone by nagging and scolding. During the second part of the roleplay, the adult responded to the message on that hat, "Notice Me. Involve Me." The parent gave the child a wrist watch and told her to watch the second hand. She said, "When the second hand goes around twice, let me know and I will get off the phone." Instead of pestering her parent, the little girl diligently watched the second hand. Her parent hung up the phone before the second hand went around twice. The person role playing the child said, "You had more time. You hung up too soon."