Dealing with the Belief Behind the Behavior
by Dr. Jane Nelsen
There is a belief behind every behavior, but when confronted with a "misbehaving child" adults usually deal only with the behavior. Dealing with the belief behind the behavior does not mean you don't deal with the behavior. However, you are most effective when you are aware of both the behavior and the belief behind it.
The following is a classic example of the belief behind a behavior. Suppose you have a two to four-year-old child whose mother goes off to the hospital and brings home a brand-new baby. What does the first born child see going on between Mom and the baby? -- Time and attention. What does the older child interpret this to mean? -- Mom loves the baby more than me. What does the first born child do in an attempt to get the love back? – He or she may act like a baby and cry a lot, ask for a bottle, and soil his or her pants.
Wayne Freiden and Marie Hartwell Walker have created songs that help adults get into the world of children and understand the beliefs they could be developing based on their birth order. Their songs include seven different birth order positions. Following is one verse from the song, Number One:
Oh it's hard to be number one.
And lately it's just no fun at all.
Life was so nice, when there were three,
Mommy and Daddy and Me.
And now there's another.
And I don't like it one bit.
Send it back to the hospital
And let's just forget about it.
Four-year-old Becky, could identify with this song. She was feeling dethroned by the birth of a baby brother, and was experiencing confusion about her feelings for the baby. Sometimes she loved him, and other times she wished he had never been born because Mom and Dad spend so much time with him. She didn't know how to get attention for herself, except to act like the baby.
One evening, when the baby was asleep, Becky's mom sat down at the kitchen table with her daughter and said, "Honey, I would like to tell you a story about our family." She had found four candles of varying lengths. "These candles represent our family." She picked up one long candle and said, "This is the mommy candle. This one is for me." She lit the candle as she said, "This flame represents my love." She picked up another long candle and said, "This candle is the daddy candle." She used the flame from the mommy candle to light the daddy candle and said, "When I married your daddy, I gave him all my love -- and I still have all my love left." Mom placed the daddy candle in a candle holder. She then picked up a smaller candle and said, "This candle is for you." She lit the smaller candle with the flame from her candle and said, "When you were born, I gave you all my love. And look. Daddy still has all my love and I still have all my love left." Mom put that candle in a candle holder next to the daddy candle. Then she picked up the smallest candle and, while lighting it from the mommy candle, said, "This is a candle for your baby brother. When he was born I gave him all my love. And look -- you still have all my love. Daddy has all my love and I still have all my love left because that is the way love Is. You can give your love to everyone in our family and still have all your love left. Now look at all the light we have in our family with all this love."
Mom then asked Becky if she would like to use her candle to light the other candles, so she could see how she could give all her love away and still have all her love. Becky was excited to try this. Mom snuffed the flame on all the candles except Becky's, and then helped her pick up each candle and hold it over the flame of her candle until it was lit. Becky's eyes were shining almost as brightly as the flame of the candles.
Mom gave Becky a hug and said, "Does this help you understand that I love you just as much as I love your baby brother?"
Becky said, Yes, and I can love lots of people just the same.
What happens to us is never as important as the beliefs we create about what happens to us. Our behavior is based on those beliefs, and the behavior and beliefs are directly related to the primary goal of all people -- to feel that we belong and are important.
Mom had learned to deal with the belief behind Becky's misbehavior. Becky stopped acting like a baby, and was more consistently loving to her baby brother.