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Behaviors At Home

The Vindictive

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

This child is angry and gets satisfaction in taking out his or her anger on others.

This child feels others see him or her as a nobody; thus negative behavior is justified.

Primary Needs Being Revealed

It is possible that this child has had a relationship fall apart at home or at school.

Escape from Pain
This child is experiencing a great deal of emotional pain.

Secondary Needs Being Revealed

This child needs someone with whom he or she can have a trusting relationship.

The child needs to know how others feel about him or her as well as understand why he or she behaves this way.

This child needs to experience some form of power in a positive direction—power that demonstrates he or she is someone worthwhile.

Actions to Take
  • Recognize that hard-core vindictiveness is often the result of early hurt, a low self-concept, and a refusal to accept love. Though the vindictive child needs love, he or she may not accept it. This vindictiveness can be treated. Consult with your doctor or school counselor to explore counseling options that can really help this child.

  • This child does need somebody. That's why the vindictive child usually searches for someone who will listen to what he or she has planned to do to get even. If you are that person, listen and try to help. Someone must approach and help the vindictive child.

  • Be aware that, in truth, when you are faced with a vindictive child, you make a choice either to approach that child or to leave him or her alone. If it's a hard-core case, it takes a strong person to make such an advance. Some might think this approach is a foolish act of empathy. However, it's a far greater risk to allow such an emotion to flourish unattended.

  • Recognize that you should be able to handle the normal and less severe kinds of vindictiveness. Some incidents are just the result of embarrassment. Here a child gets hurt and wants to hurt back. The vindictiveness may be the aftermath of a fight between children, a low grade received, or a quarrel over something trivial.

  • Try to bring the more rational of the two parties to apologize and mend fences, regardless of where the fault lies. This action may stop vindictiveness before it has a chance to fester.

  • Recognize that there is one thing the vengeful child needs most at such times: somebody who cares enough to confront him or her in a feeling, concerned, and intelligent way. This child may think sympathy and consoling are needed, but what's really needed most is someone to appeal to his or her better self and move him or her toward more healthy behavior. As simple as it sounds, the child seeking revenge needs someone to say, "That's not like you," or "You're a better person than that." He or she needs to be reminded, "It would hurt you more than him if you ever did anything like that for revenge," or "Don't—you'll be ashamed of yourself later." This is precisely what the vindictive child needs.

  • Once confronted, hostility has a chance to subside. Remember, children will usually feel better once they talk about their anger and release it. Then they can decide not to follow through with their vindictiveness—and will be happier with themselves and take pride in their decision to abandon hate. However, if nobody is around to bring out their better side, they may do something they will regret.

  • Realize that there are only two ways to approach the vindictive child. First, you can appeal to the ego. The child can be told he or she is too intelligent to reveal such thinking. Second, you can appeal to the better side of the child's character.

  • Many children will openly reveal their vindictiveness and take pride in the terrible acts of revenge they create. When this is the case, take the only positive course available: Never show approval in any way.

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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.