We all need to feel like we belong. And the most important place we need to feel like we belong is in our families. It is from our family relationships that we build relationships within our schools, our churches, our neighborhoods and our communities…and beyond.
According to Rudolph Dreikurs and Alfred Adler our children are working to get the emotional connection of belonging and have four goals: contact, power, protection and withdrawal.
Contact. When the goal of contact is positively reached the child feels that his contributions are recognized. The child sees that he belongs by cooperating with others, and enjoys social interaction. When the goal of contact is not successful the child tries to make contact by drawing undue attention to himself. The child feels he belongs only when he is noticed and someone is doing something for him, and he acts as though the world must revolve around him. As parents and teachers, we feel irritated with the child who does not make positive contact; but for the cooperating and contributing child we have a sense of closeness.
Power. When the goal of power is met by the child, we see a child who feels independent and thinks he is able to influence what happens to himself. He feels responsible for his life. For the child who feels powerless, we see rebellion. This child thinks he belongs only when he is the boss or when he is asserting that you can’t boss him around. We tend to feel angry with the rebellious child and the child sees our anger as a successful power play. On the other hand, we admire the independent child’s responsible self-motivated behavior.
Protection. When the goal of protection is met positively by he child, he is assertive and forgiving. When treated unfairly, he stands up for himself and others. He is able to forgive those who have wronged him. For the child who lacks a sense of protection, we see him taking revenge. The child thinks he has been hurt and will get even by hurting others. With the revengeful child we feel attacked and hurt. With the assertive, forgiving child we feel love.
Withdrawal. For the child who’s positive goal is withdrawal we see a child going off to be alone to re-center himself. The child realizes that it is okay to need to be alone and that there are situations where you leave others alone. For the child who withdraws in a negative manner, we see an avoidance of interaction. The avoiding child feels that he is a failure at everything, and has given up trying to make contact, develop personal power, or feel safe and protected. The avoiding child becomes passive and refuses to try; in our interactions with him, we feel helpless. The re-centering child makes contact again when he is ready, and we feel respect for his self-awareness of his needs.
To help our children feel like they belong, we need to help them achieve their unconscious goals of contact, power, protection and withdrawal.
- For positive contact we encourage cooperation and acknowledge the child’s contributions.
- For power and independence we give the child responsibilities and continue to encourage.
- For protection (assertiveness and forgiveness) we express our own positive feelings. We forgive others. We assert our own right to be treated with fairness.
- For the goal of withdrawing of the re-centering child, we respect the child’s wishes to be alone and use listening techniques when he is ready to talk to us.
You can help your child feel like they belong by understanding that demands for undue attention, rebellion, revenge and avoidance are the discouraged results of trying to make contact, create personal power, provide self-protection, or withdrawing in order to try again.