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Behaviors At Home

The Agitator

Action: Why is my child behaving this way, what unmet needs does he or she have, and what specific things can I do to help him or her behave better?

Primary Causes of Misbehavior

The need for power is expressed by creating situations that demonstrate this child's ability to be in control.

Primary Needs Being Revealed

The lack of proper food and rest may be causing this child to be acting this way.

Because of past experiences, this child may find it very difficult to establish positive relationships.


Escape from Pain
This child protects himself or herself by the use of power to cover his or her pain.

Secondary Needs Being Revealed

This child has a need to control.

This child may have a strong need to know what's going on. He or she wants to know the why behind what we're doing and what's going on.

This child may be trying to achieve power over others through agitation.

This child may also have a strong need for status within a group.

Actions to Take
  • Remember that the agitator's biggest fear is exposure; basically he or she is a pretender as well as a coward. The agitator cannot accept the full and open responsibility of a leadership position, but needs others to fulfill his or her needs.

  • Identify the agitator through these two behaviors: First, he or she is always present—but appears to be an innocent bystander—in trouble situations. Second, he or she is never personally involved in any dispute, if it can be avoided. Whenever you observe an ever-present innocent bystander, look for his or her position of leadership in group situations.

  • Tell your child, calmly and lovingly in a private conversation, that you know what he or she is up to. This will curtail his or her activities almost immediately.

  • Be careful not to make a total accusation—for he or she can easily deny involvement.

  • Seriously--but gently--tell the child that you suspect what he or she is doing. You may add that you have the obligation to discuss this deceitful behavior with other family members and perhaps his or her teachers and administrators, if incidents are occurring at school.

  • Regardless of the child's response, fear will be his or her emotion. Treat this fear kindly.

  • Listen carefully, then show concern. When you operate in a caring manner the agitator will make every effort to improve and to make sure that you know he or she is trying. Therefore, when you confront, always do it in a caring way.

  • When you confront, use the "What Is More Important Than Why" technique. Don't ask why the child did something. The child may not even know he or she is agitating. Regardless, "why" is not the immediate issue. You can talk about "why" later. Ask what he or she did, and what he or she is going to do about it. You may even skip asking what the child did—and tell him or her. However, you must ask what he or she is going to do about it.

  • Recognize and acknowledge his or her efforts to improve. Otherwise, the agitating may begin again.

  • Be specific about what kind of behavior you expect. Don't generalize.

  • Be sure the agitator knows that you are not going to forget his or her past actions. Tell the child you want to support positive behavior, and that any time there is even the slightest indication that he or she is beginning to agitate again you will confront him or her about it and stop it immediately.

  • Assign special duties to the agitator—such as setting the table, clearing the table after meals, and so forth. This helps to meet the need for attention and power.

  • Use group and peer pressure in sincere and straightforward ways to help motivate your child to change his or her behavior. This is easily done by making the agitator the appointed leader. Remember, he or she wants influence, but not responsibility. Yet responsibility is what will change the behavior.

  • Set up a contract with your child. Make specific agreements about what should be done, when and where it should be done, and how it should be done.

  • Try to remain objective and emotionally neutral.

  • Remember, the child who resists authority knows where the power is, yet has chosen a course which he or she knows offers severe consequences. Look at such resistance for what it really is: a cry for help. It says everything from "I don't understand" to "I don't know what to do but fight."

  • Rather than fearing such occurrences or regarding them as terrible episodes, look upon them as opportunities to help your child work through a problem that can only cause trouble for a lifetime. Begin by showing a willingness to listen and talk privately.

  • Fully understand that for every child who agitates, fear of rejection by a parent causes an overwhelming feeling of failure or frustration. That's why teaching rather than forcing is the best course to take. Any other road leads toward a destructive kind of confrontation and puts a parent on the same level as the distressed child. Hopefully, this is not the road we would choose to take just to prove our power.

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Please Note
We are labeling behaviors, not children! For the sake of convenience, we will describe behaviors with terms such as The Whiner or The Interrupter.

Never use such labels when talking to—or about—children! Doing so could cause many new problems and seriously damage the teacher-student or parent-child relationship.