Adlerian Psychology, also known as Individual Psychology, was founded by the psychiatrist Alfred Adler and popularized in the United States by the psychiatrist Rudolf Dreikurs. Individual Psychology is a holistic approach to understanding the individual. Francis X. Walton, Ph.D. and Kathleen A. Walton founded Adlerian Child Care Centers, Inc. in 1974. The Waltons established the centers because they wanted to provide parents a child development program that would apply Alfred Adler’s child rearing philosophy and techniques to the teaching and guidance of children. Teachers at the centers are trained in Adlerian theory and classroom management techniques so they can provide children an early childhood program that encourages them to develop cooperation, responsibility and mutual respect for fellow human beings.
Overview of Adlerian Psychology
Adlerian Psychology maintains that behavior is best understood from a holistic point of view. That is to say, each individual develops a style or pattern of behavior. That style is created by the individual based upon conclusions the person has drawn about himself and others and the world as he sees it. A person meets the challenges of social living based upon his lifestyle. There are several basic principles in Individual Psychology:
I. We are motivated to belong. People look for a way to feel significant or connected to the social group in which they find themselves. Be it the family, school, work, or marriage all individuals want to feel they belong and are significant members of their social setting. The first society of every individual is the family. In the case of the child, she looks for clues from family members that she has a place in the family. When the child is treated with respect, given responsibility, deliberately encouraged and taught to care for others, she is much more likely to find a way to belong that is a help to the family. When the child is pampered or coerced by family members, or discouraged in some other way, she is more likely to sidestep the cooperation called for in life and seek to find her place in the family in a troublesome, or socially useless style.
II. We strive for superiority or perfection. People will not stand to be placed in a position of inferiority. When they sense themselves to be in an inferior position, real or imagined, they will find a way to move into a superior position. Examples of this are found throughout history; the exodus of the Jewish people from Egypt, the women’s rights movements, the civil rights movements, just to name a few. Children are naturally in a position of inferiority. They are not as big as adults, not as smart as adults, not as fast as adults, and the list goes on. Where adults make trouble for themselves and children is when they further compound a child’s position by sending messages that the child doesn’t have what it takes to handle the tasks that confront them. The following example helps to illustrate the point.
While Mommy may have won the battle of Sue getting dressed, Sue is winning the war. Sue has discovered that she has a special way to belong when she refuses to obey Mommy’s orders. Mommy mistakenly repeats her orders and demands, making Sue’s refusal to cooperate useful to her as a way of showing Mommy who’s in charge. Sue’s behavior moves her from the minus position of being ordered and reminded what to do, to the plus position of showing Mommy that Sue decides what she will do by herself. Until Mommy is ready to get out of the power struggle, she’d better not expect to improve her tardiness record at work.
III. Behavior is purposeful and goal directed. Children use their behavior to move themselves from an inferior position to a superior position. When children sense themselves to be in an encouraging environment in which they are given responsibility, their behaviors tend to be cooperative and productive. However, when children sense themselves to be in a position of inferiority where life is out of their control they misbehave in an attempt to feel that they belong or are significant. The child uses her private logic to draw conclusions about herself in relation to the rest of the child’s world and behaves in a direction that she feels will help the child to feel superior, or significant. Listed below are what Dreikurs refers to as the 4 mistaken goals of behavior. A brief description of each goal follows:
Attention – Private logic, “I may not be able to do much, but at least I am important when you notice me.” Child disrupts activities by crying, talking, yelling, or acting out in a way that gets the attention of the parent or teacher. If corrected, child will stop misbehavior briefly but resumes it shortly thereafter. Another aspect of attention is service. In this case the child attempts to make servants out of others by getting them to do for the child what he could do for himself. For example, a child points to objects rather than make needs known verbally. The teacher attends to the child by trying to guess what the child wants and then retrieves it for him.
Power – Private logic, “Maybe I don’t do it right, but you won’t make me do it.” Child feels that others are trying to control her and she will not stand for it. Child is aggressive, stubborn, and bossy. She may have temper tantrums or may quietly dig in heels and refuse to budge. When corrected the child does not stop the behavior and may become worse. The teacher may try to “make” the child stop which feeds into the misbehavior by putting the child in control of the situation rather than the teacher. The very purpose of the child’s behavior is to demonstrate her power to the teacher.
Revenge – Private logic, “Nobody loves me, everybody hates me. Boy, will I hurt them.” Child feels that others are hurtful or hateful to him and attempts to right the scales by hurting back. Child is violent, aggressive, and verbally abusive. Often there is physical or verbal abuse of the child by someone in the family. Highly pampered children will often learn to be revengeful when they do not get their way. When corrected the child gets much worse. The child is trying to show others that he can hurt them back.
Inadequacy – Private logic, “No matter what I do, it doesn’t measure up, so why bother?” Child is afraid of failure and decides it is better not to do anything rather than risk failure. Child is passive, quiet, shy, withdrawn, daydreams, gives up easily, does nothing. When attempts are made to get the child to do something she may try and then gives up easily, or she may sit and continue to do nothing as though she does not understand.
IV. All individuals have the potential for socially interested behavior. Humans are born into some form of a society. That being the case there is always a potential for an individual to develop behaviors that are not only in the best interest of the individual, but also in the best interest of the society. The degree to which a child develops his social interest can be affected by how the child sees himself in relation to the rest of his world. In an encouraging environment that promotes cooperation and teaches responsibility children learn that their contributions are a benefit not only to themselves but also to the rest of the group. This does not come about by any accident on the part of a teacher, but rather it occurs because the teacher deliberately teaches concern for fellow human beings.
WINNING CHILDREN OVER TO SOCIALLY INTERESTED BEHAVIOR
Early childhood educators are in an excellent position to teach socially interested behavior to children. The first step is to identify how the child’s current behavior is useful to her, in other words, what is the goal of the misbehavior? The next step is to select a technique that stops the usefulness of the misbehavior for the child and a technique that will deliberately encourage cooperative behavior. As we start to work out a plan of action for winning the child over to cooperative behavior there are several factors we keep in mind.
Parenting Styles There are two troublesome parenting styles. They are pampering a child and coercing a child. Neither is helpful in raising socially interested human beings. Pampering means doing for the child on a regular basis what the child can, or could do for herself. Coercive or authoritarian parenting means forcing or making the child do things. When we work with children it is a help to know if these approaches are being used at home. Observing the morning drop off and evening pick up routines can help teachers to know what goes on at home. If a child who can walk is carried in by his parents and the parents carry in the school bag, it is often a sign that the parents are pampering the child. If a parent brings his child in with comments like, “Hurry up, I haven’t got all day!” or picks up the child and becomes agitated because the child is taking too long to get ready to go home, it can be a sign that the parent is authoritarian.
Knowing the parenting style a child is accustomed to can help us to understand her misbehavior. In pampering environments a child will often resort to attention seeking or service oriented behaviors to compensate for her feelings of inferiority. Children who are coerced often resort to power seeking or rebellious behavior. In the case of the child who has one parent who is very pampering and one who is very authoritative one may see revenge seeking behavior. It is terribly important to remember that as educators we also can find ourselves mistakenly pampering or coercing children.
Birth Order The order in which children are born into their families can impact on their behavior. While each individual has their own private logic it is not uncommon to see children in similar birth order positions draw similar conclusions. When there are two or more children in a family it is important to know about the relationships the children have with one another. One of the most significant influences upon personality is the brother or sister who is most different from a child. Is there sibling rivalry? Does one sibling act as a second parent for another? The characteristics below are often found in children who have the following birth order positions.
First born -responsible, assertive, leader, bossy, rule conscious, concerned with being first
Second born – competitive, thoughtful, social, creative, risk-taker, rebel
Middle born – concerned with fairness, cooperative, avoids conflict
Last born – humorous, sensitive, helpless, insecure, athletic
Only born – introspective, confident, loner, different, demanding
Like the parenting style, birth order is another clue that can help us to understand the child’s behavior and find ways to win him over to cooperative behavior. When you wish to deliberately encourage a child you can use the clues that birth order provides. For example, a youngest child (last born) could be invited to teach the class a song he knows. The child gets to be center stage as he teaches the class but is receiving attention for something that is helpful to the group rather than detracting from the group. In cases of more than one child in the family, it is a help to know if the child senses himself to be in competition with a sibling. Typically, siblings who are in competition with one another will not compete in the same areas. If one sibling excels academically, the other sibling will typically choose another area in which to excel, say art or athletics.
Putting it all together Jenny is giving Ms. Judy a headache. When Ms. Judy asks for the class to clean up, Jenny always lags behind. Ms. Judy frequently has to go over and remind Jenny that it is clean up time. Jenny cleans up some, but then starts to play again. Ms. Judy usually has to help Jenny clean up. At lunchtime Jenny is the last to finish. At nap Jenny usually has to have her mat moved several times because she talks and giggles to others. After nap, Jenny is always the last to put her socks and shoes back on. Ms. Judy usually helps her. If the class wears jackets outside, Jenny more often than not leaves hers outside and Ms. Judy has to go back outside to retrieve it for her. Ms. Judy feels like most of her day is spent with Jenny and that the rest of her class is suffering.
Ms. Judy decides that it’s time to bring Jenny over to more cooperative behavior. She sits down and reflects upon what she knows about Jenny. Jenny is the youngest child in her family. In the morning, her father carries Jenny and her bag into the center. He sits Jenny at the table and prepares her breakfast for her while Jenny yawns sleepily from her chair. When he gives her a kiss good-bye, Jenny begins to cry softly. Daddy reassures her and helps her eat some of her breakfast. Daddy then leaves. In the evening when Mommy picks up Jenny and her two older brothers, ages 6 and 9, Mom stops by the boys’ room and tells them it’s time to go. The boys gather their items and meet Mom in Jenny’s room where Mom is trying to gather Jenny’s belongings. Jenny is usually excitedly telling Mommy about her day and trying to show her things in the room. Mommy, in a nice way, repeatedly says, “Jenny, honey, we really have to go now.” More often than not Mommy laughingly scoops Jenny up and tells the boys to grab her things. Several times they have had to come back to the center to get items that Jenny forgot.
Ms. Judy realizes that Jenny’s misbehavior is in the direction of service. Jenny has found her place in her family by getting others to do for her what she could do for herself. Ms. Judy also realizes that Jenny has been doing a pretty good job of putting Ms. Judy in her service. As the last child in the family Jenny has lots of older “helpers” who can solve her problems for her. Jenny comes into the classroom having the expectation that others are there to do for her and stay involved with her. Ms. Judy decides that the best technique she can use to teach Jenny responsibility and cooperation is to stop doing for Jenny what she can do for herself. When Ms. Judy makes a request of the class she will not repeat herself to Jenny. If Jenny does not clean up an area, Ms. Judy will enlist the help of another child. Later, when the area is open again, Jenny will be asked to find another area since she chose not to clean up earlier. At lunchtime Ms. Judy will sit down and talk with the children who are eating their lunch rather than talking with those who are dallying. If Jenny is eating she will make a point of talking with Jenny. At naptime Ms. Judy will no longer continue to move Jenny’s mat, instead she will go and rub the backs of the children who are lying quietly on their mats.
*Excerpted with permission from Walton-McCawley, Cindy. Establishing A Preschool Program for Children Age Three, Adlerian Child Care Books, 1997. This material is protected by copyright and may not be reproduced without the express written consent of Cindy Walton-McCawley.