When you think about it, the field of psychology as a science is not very old. William James, American philosopher and psychologist, who argued that emotions come from physical changes, died in 1910. Alfred Binet, French psychologist who developed the first reliable intelligence test, died in 1911.
Wilhem Wundt, German psychologist who was the founder of the first experimental psychology laboratory, died in 1920. Ivan Pavlov, the Russian physiologist and experimental psychologist who demonstrated the conditioned reflex, died in 1936. Sigmund Freud, Austrian neurologist and founder of psychoanalysis, and who developed the concepts of the id, ego and superego, died in 1939. Alfred Adler, a student of Freud who broke away and started his own brand of Individual Psychology, died in 1937.
Then there is Rudolf Dreikurs, an Austrian psychiatrist who studied under Adler and popularized the psychological application to parents and schools, died in Chicago in 1972. Due to the limitations of article space, only a small portion of Dreikurs’ thoughts will be shared here; but it is hoped that this information will draw your interest for more study.
Dreikurs, who was already using Adler’s concepts in an Austrian child guidance center, left Austria to avoid Nazi persecution and moved to the United States in 1937. He moved to Chicago in 1939 and became a student and colleague of Alfred Adler. While in Chicago, Dreikurs was Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry at the Chicago Medical School and the Director of the Alfred Adler Institute of Chicago. He was the editor of the Journal of Individual Psychology.
It was my deep privilege to attend several public teaching demonstrations that Dr. Dreikurs offered at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas, just a few years before his passing.
The Encyclopedia Britannica describes Dreikurs this way: “an American psychiatrist and educator who developed the Austrian psychologist Alfred Adler’s system of individual psychology into a pragmatic method for understanding the purposes of reprehensible behavior in children and for stimulating cooperative behavior without punishment or reward.”
One of Dreikurs’ most interesting concepts is the explanation of a child’s misbehavior. There are four basic human needs that children have, and if not met, then misbehavior results. These four basic needs are:
Look at me. Here I am. Do not forget me.
The child’s goal of attention getting will make
you feel annoyed.
I am the boss. I will do as I please.
The child’s goal of power will make you want to
show him who is boss.
I am hurt so I will hurt you. You are mean so I
will be mean.
The child’s goal of revenge will make you want to
4. Avoidance of failure or withdrawal
If I do not do anything, I cannot be blamed for
The child’s goal of avoidance/withdrawal will
make you want to give up.
These four behaviors are called mistaken goals and are not in conscious awareness to the child; but they are “mistaken” because his methods are uncooperative and disruptive in getting what he wants. They are signs of pure, deep discouragement of the child’s little psyche. Knowing these four mistaken goals and ways to counteract them become one of the mainstays of Dreikurs’ psychology.
Dreikurs developed his Social Discipline model on the four basis premises of Adler’s social theory.
1. Humans are social being who have a basic
motivation to belong.
2. All human behavior has a purpose.
3. Humans are decision-making organisms.
4. Humans only perceive reality and this perception
may be mistaken or biased.
All children desire attention, and they have a strong desire to belong. A simple observation of children playing with their parents or with other children reveals this desire. If a child does not get the desired attention, and feels he does not belong, through either acting good or bad, then he moves up to the next rung of behavior. His discouragement brings on the use of more powerful tactics to win a place of belonging and acceptance. In addition, the child’s bid for attention will become annoying and irritating to you because it can be so obnoxious.
Power is a struggle between who is boss, and who will rule the day. If I cannot belong by seeking attention, and if I cannot feel like a worthwhile
contributor, then I will just show you who is boss. I will demand that you pay attention to me. Obviously, this step is a sign of greater discouragement and means the parent has a much more difficult task ahead in turning the child around. In addition, your child’s bid for power will make you even more determined to show him who is boss. Moreover, it is very likely that you may find yourself using more punitive discipline methods to little or no benefit.
Revenge is the child’s response to your harsher methods of trying to get him to act right. When children get discouraged and feel that attention and power do not serve their need for feeling that they belong and are worthy – when they feel “hurt” – they will seek to find ways to get back at us and inflict some of that same hurt on us. It becomes a cycle of inflicting pain: Your child hurts you and you hurt your child. This is one step above power and indicates that you and you child are very discouraged and distraught.
If attention, power and revenge do not help your child feel like he belongs in the family as one who is a wanted, contributing member, after he has tried everything, then there is only one last thing to do: withdraw. This feeling of failure or inadequacy becomes mutual in the family; and this very last, dismal goal of misbehavior and misdirection becomes an albatross for the entire family. Unfortunately, this is a very difficult situation and requires professional help.
The good news is that parents who learn more about childrearing, and take to heart the practical teachings of Dreikurs, and who use his techniques, will find their children to be happy, contributing citizens of the community.
Therefore, as far as psychological theories go, we owe much to Alfred Adler and Rudolf Dreikurs in understanding human behavior. Look into the practical applications of this theory, and read more about these two great men of psychology.
For more information, and there is much more about this particular theory of rearing children than the four goals of misbehavior listed above, read
FUNDEMENTALS OF ADLERIAN PSYCHOLOGY by Rudolf Dreikurs, 1953
CHILDREN THE CHALLENGE by Dreikurs and Soltz, 1964
A PARENT’S GUIDE TO CHILD DISCIPLINE by Dreikurs and Grey, 1970
The reader is asked to disregard the age of the materials written by Dr. Dreikurs. After all, wisdom is ageless.
Many other writers are friends of Dreikurs’ teachings. One popular writer and advocate of Adler/Dreikurs’ ideas is Dr. Jane Nelsen, an educational psycholog who has written at least 17 books. Her book, POSITIVE DISCIPLINE, paperback, 1986, is one of her popular titles.
Dr. Nelsen knows what she is talking about since she raised seven of her own children. To read more about Dr. Nelsen and her work, go to her website at positive discipline.com.