Destructive Behavior

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Harmful, devastating and damaging are all words to describe destructive behaviors. Destructive behaviors not only affect the child exhibiting the behavior, but also the lives of family members and others around the child. The effects of destructive behaviors may have a short life span or may have damaging effects which last a life time. Therefore, it is extremely crucial to recognize destructive behaviors and implement some type of behavior management program. It may be that as a parent, you may not have the necessary skills to manage the misbehavior. In cases such as this, you may want to seek the assistance of a professional.

Identifying whether children's misbehavior is really destructive may be relatively easy if the behavior exhibits obvious damaging results. However, if the effects of the misbehavior do not carry any physical scars or bruises, it may not be as obvious that the behavior is indeed destructive.

If children tend to be thoughtless and self-centered; to blast their stereos at inappropriate moments; to use language occasionally that is less than desirable; and to exploit independence; then relax--your children sound fairly well-adjusted. However, you probably will want to devote some attention and take action if your child persists with displays of anger, deception, aggression, and rebelliousness.

General Characteristics
Children who consistently exhibit destructive misbehavior may be indicating low levels of self-control and self-esteem. There are two primary underlying causes of destructive misbehavior. These are low self-esteem and self-control. Keep in mind that destructive misbehavior does not necessarily or always cause immediate harm to the children, but the immediate harm may be experienced by others.

Environmental Needs to Help the Child
Destructive behaviors, which are unacceptable behaviors, are used as tools by children to display their feelings in unacceptable ways. For this reason, an environment which not only models acceptable behavior but also encourages acceptable behavior through discipline is essential. Realize that there is a distinct difference between discipline and punishment.

Discipline is an overall package that provides guidance and direction for children. Guidance and direction take into account the specific needs of children, the nature of the misbehavior, and the children's abilities. The purpose of discipline is to direct children toward independence and to become individuals that can function in acceptable ways in society.

Children exhibiting destructive behaviors need an environment with structure. This structure should include daily routines with modification being made as changes in misbehavior occur. Rules should be established as a part of the structured plan. Be careful that all rules are meaningful and purposeful. As with any child, rules need to be expressed and enforced with consistency.

The environment for managing destructive misbehavior must have a wealth of love and praise. Remember that the underlying factors for the misbehavior are lack of self-esteem, revenge, and power. Active love can go a long way to help eliminate and heal the inadequacies that feed the misbehavior.

Parents and Siblings
At times, children who exhibit destructive misbehavior may seem intolerable. You may feel that there is nothing that you can say or do. Always remember that there is help for you in many of the community resources available. As you work toward managing misbehavior independently or in conjunction with school personnel or other community professionals, implement some of the techniques provided below:

Keep your cool and remain calm.
Take action instead of reacting to the behavior. Take the heat out of the situation and calm the child.
Don't make threats.
Address misbehavior rather than ignore it.
Talk with the child. Try to strengthen the relationship.
Stress the positive behaviors of the child.
Guide the child into taking responsibility for his or her own actions.
Always ask before accusing.
Seek help from school or community resources.
Encouragement and Stress Management
Living with children who display destructive behaviors can be a great stressor to the family. Distress is felt based upon your perception of the stressor--in this case destructive behavior. When you realize that the misbehavior does exist and can prepare yourself for dealing with it, this tends to diminish the stress which is experienced even though it does not diminish the severity of the behavior. Take steps to learn to manage your stress as it relates to your child's behavior.

Maintain a positive outlook.
Recognize your limitations and seek help if necessary.
Become involved in support groups that might exist through various treatment programs.
Take courage in the smallest amount of progress toward controlling and/or eliminating the misbehavior.
Reaves, John and Austin, James B. (1990). How To Find Help For A Troubled Kid. New York: Henry Holt and Company, Inc.
Yura, Michael T. & Zuckerman, Lawrence. (1979). Raising The Exceptional Child. New York: Hawthorn Books, Inc.
DeBruyn, Robert L. and Larson, Jack L. (1992). You Can Handle Them All--Quick-Action Card Deck. Manhattan, KS: The MASTER Teacher.

Reprinted with permission from Ohio State University Extension Service
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