Chapter  12:  PO  Toolset  (“On  purpose”  misbehavior)                                                                  341



This chapter has two summary pages. The first takes the universal process of handling PO problems and compares the goals of PO behavior at each step. The second summary page (with cartoons) lists each goal and the steps of identifying and responding to that type of PO behavior.


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Step  A:  Prevent  the  behavior  by  meeting  the  positive  goal

  • Attention. Involve child in meaningful ways. Foster a sense of importance and belonging.
  • Power. Promote independence, offer choices in limits, make requests in positive words.
  • Revenge. Acknowledge feelings and teach assertive respectful communication.
  • Giving up. Use descriptive encouragement and teach skills.

Step  B:  Identify  and  Acknowledge  the  feelings  beneath  the  behavior.

  • Attention. Children are usually feeling lonely, unimportant, rejected, or forgotten.
  • Power. Children are usually feeling frustrated, disappointed or out of control.
  • Revenge. Children are usually feeling hurt or angry.
  • Giving up. Children are usually feeling deeply discouraged, frustrated, or confused.

Step  C1:  Set  limits  or  state  your  concerns


    i. We  feel  .  .  .

.  . . annoyed, irritated, tired, or hounded, when the goal is attention.
.  . . others are challenging our authority, when the goal is power.
.  . . hurt, shocked, or disgusted, when the goal is revenge.
.  . . frustrated, discouraged, or hopeless, when the goal is giving up.

  ii. We  are  tempted  to  .  .  .

.  . . remind, nag, and push away, when the goal is attention.
.  . . argue, punish, or give in, when the goal is power.
.  . . show hurt or hurt back, when the goal is revenge.
.  . . rescue, pressure, criticize, praise, or expect less, when the goal is giving up.

 iii. If we do any of these, we either escalate the cycle or reward the behavior.

  • We still give attention when we remind, nag, or show we are bothered.
  • We feed the power struggle when we argue and reward it when we give in.
  • We add to the revenge cycle when we hurt back and reward it when we show hurt.
  • We discourage children who are giving up when we criticize and reward them by rescuing.



Attention. Stop once; use PASRR. Offer positive attention. Ignore the behavior, not the child. Power. Offer choices within limits. Disengage, emotionally and/or physically.

Revenge. Rebuild trust by resolving the child’s hurt first. Offer acceptable anger alternatives. Giving up. Break tasks into smaller parts. Focus on any effort or improvement. Express faith in the child’s abilities. Use problem solving.

Step   C3:   Reveal   Discipline

Only discipline after breaking the PO cycle. Immediate discipline, as a first response, escalates PO behavior or gives it a payoff.

  • Immediate discipline gives negative attention, which is better than no attention.
  • Children interpret discipline as a power play punishment and may seek revenge.
  • Discipline becomes a revenge weapon of punishment. It feeds the cycle.
  • Children who are giving up feel even more discouraged and incompetent.

Permission for reader to reprint this page for personal use only granted by author, Jody Johnston Pawel, LSW, The Parent’s Toolshop, © 2000.


Chapter  12:  PO  Toolset  (“On  purpose”  misbehavior)                                                                  343




Positive  belief:  Involvement,  belonging,  to  feel important.
Negative  belief:  “I  only  belong  if  I’m  noticed.”
Reinforce  positive/prevent  negative
Plan ahead. Spend time together. Give attention unexpectedly. Involve child. Recognize efforts.
Identify  the  goal  of  attention: 
I feel . . . Annoyed,  irritated,  personal  space  violated, tired, frustrated.
I’m  tempted  to  .  .  .  Remind,  nag,  give  undue service, “Stop,” “Leave me alone.”
If I do . . . reactions give negative attention (payoff), behavior temporarily stops, escalates, or new behaviors keep parent involved.
Avoid: Reinforcing negative behavior or giving special service on demand.

Redirect: Stop  once. In  one  sentence,  use  Universal PASRR formula. Offer acceptable activities. Then ignore the behavior, not the child. Involve child, if possible.  Give  attention  for  positive  behavior.  Use prevention  tools  above.


Positive belief: “I want to make decisions and have some control in my life.”
Negative belief:  “I  only  belong  if  I’m  in  control.”Reinforce positive/prevent negative:
Offer choices within limits. Ask for their help. Build teamwork. Word limits in positive words. Involve indecisions. Teach skills and let go.
Identify  the  goal  of  power:
I feel . . . Provoked,  authority  is  challenged.
I’m  tempted  to  .  .  .  Argue,  exert  more  power,  or give in. “I’ll show you who’s the boss.”
If I do . . . Arguing escalates power struggle. Child passively or aggressively defies. Giving in gives a payoff.
Avoid: arguing or giving in. Break the cycle before disciplining.

Redirect:  Keep  your  cool.  Be  kind  and  firm.  Use bottom  line  limits  and  offer  choices  one  last  time. Decide what you will do, not what you’ll make child do. Disengage, emotionally and/or physically. Use prevention skills above.




Positive  belief:  “Good  deeds  deserve  repayment.”
Negative  belief:  “I  must  hurt  others  who  hurt me.”
Reinforce positive/prevent negative:
Use  listening  and communication  to  avoid  hurting  feelings.  Teach  assertive,  respectful conflict resolution skills.
Identify  the  goal  of  revenge:
I  feel  .  .  . Hurt,  physically  or  emotionally.  Disappointed,  disbelief,  disgusted.
I’m  tempted  to  .  .  .  Show  hurt  or  hurt  back.“How could you do this to me?”
If  I  do  .  .  . showing  hurt  gives  a  payoff.  Retaliation escalates revenge cycle.
Avoid:  Hurting  back  or  showing  hurt.  Break  cycle before disciplining.

Redirect:  Disengage.  Cool  off.  Rebuild  trust.  Acknowledge child’s  hurt  first, before addressing  revengeful behavior. Brainstorm acceptable anger alternatives. Suggest child make amends for hurt. Use prevention  tools  above.




Positive belief: Withdrawal. “I can avoid conflict when it’s healthy to do so.” “I want reassurance.”
Negative belief: “I don’t belong because I’m incompetent.” “Don’t expect anything from me.”
Reinforce positive/prevent negative: Describe any effort or improvement. Teach skills.
Identify the goal of giving up:
I  feel  .  .  .  Frustrated, discouraged,
I’m tempted to . . . Help, rescue, praise, give up, expect less.
If I do . . .  Rescuing gives a payoff for giving up. Praise and  pressure escalates. Child feels more incompetent and fails to respond.
Avoid: Praises, all criticism and comparisons. Don’t rescue, give up, or pity.

Redirect:  Break task into smaller parts. Focus on any effort or improvement, no matter how small. Express faith in abilities. Use problem-solving. Use prevention tools above.

Permission for reader to reprint this page for personal use only granted by author, Jody Johnston Pawel, LSW, The Parent’s Toolshop, © 2000.


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(Detailed answers are at the end of the chapter.)

A. Identifying Positive Goals. Each of the following situations is an example of a child using positive behavior to meet a positive goal of behavior. Write the letter of the positive goal in the left column next to the most appropriate example in the right column. 

a. Involvement/Recognition

b. Independence

c. Justice/Fairness

d. Withdrawal from conflict 

____1. Bonnie’s mother bought her a new outfit as a surprise, so tonight she washes the supper dishes and cleans the kitchen floor as a surprise to her mother.

____2. Katie, 5, shows her Dad a picture she colored.

____3. George, 5, is playing with his little sister, who’s two-years-old. When she grabs the blocks he is playing with, he just uses what’s left. He doesn’t say anything and lets her play with the blocks she took.

____4. Toby, 17, saved his money for a used bike. He purchased a broken bike for half the cost of most bikes. He wants to fix it himself, as a hobby. How can this behavior give the child more attention? 

B . One Behavior, More than One Goal? Each of the following behaviors can serve more than one of the four goals of behavior: Attention, Power, Revenge, or Giving up. Explain how the behavior serves each purpose. Hint: Some don’t serve all four purposes. Just write “n/a” if it does not apply.

1.    Refusing to talk (not a shy personality trait).

How can this behavior give the child more power?
How can this behavior help the child seek revenge?
How can this behavior show the child has given up?

2.    Running away.

How can this behavior give the child more attention?
How can this behavior give the child more power?
How can this behavior help the child seek revenge?
How can this behavior show the child has given up?

3.    Boredom, “I don’t have anything to do.”

How can this behavior give the child more attention?
How can this behavior give the child more power?
How can this behavior help the child seek revenge?
How can this behavior show the child has given up?

C. Identifying and Responding to Negative Goals. In each of the following situations, use the PO a-b-c process to identify the goal. Suggest ways to prevent the misbehavior and redirect it.

  1.   Chelsea, 4, was told she had to play with a girl who came to visit with her mother. She does not like this girl. Chelsea tricked the girl into letting her paint her from head to toe. Now Chelsea has locked herself in the bathroom. She won’t come out because she is sure she’ll get punished.

What is the purpose behind Chelsea painting the girl? 
Is there more than one goal involved?
What is Chelsea’s motive for hiding in the bathroom?
How could her mother have prevented this from happening?
How can her mother respond helpfully?

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  2.   A teacher accused Paul, 8, of cheating on a test. He says he didn’t cheat, which is the truth. The teacher doesn’t believe him, because the other child’s test answers are so similar and Paul did better on a test than usual. Paul said he studied much harder than usual for this test. The teacher gives him a zero on the test and won’t let him retake the test or make up the work. He will get a “D,” a failing grade. He figures a “D” is as bad as an “F,” so he stops studying and starts cutting this class.

What is the purpose of Paul’s behavior?
What can Paul and his parents do?

  3.   Jeff, 11, has a habit of running the heel of his hand up people’s backs and through their hair, saying “Zoom!” He laughs, but it irritates and aggravates others. Despite telling Jeff, “Stop it! I don’t like that,” he continues.

What is the purpose of Jeff’s behavior?
How could his family prevent this from happening?
When it does happen, how can they respond helpfully?

  4.   Shawn, 12, broke his collarbone the weekend before the summer school break. He can’t swim for three weeks or play sports for two months. Shawn was looking forward to an active summer. He doesn’t want to watch the other kids having fun, so he just hangs around the house. After one week, he’s going stir crazy. He walks to a friend’s house and rides the friend’s bike home—with one arm and no helmet! When Shawn’s parents express concerns about reinjuring his collarbone, Shawn argues with them.

What is the purpose of Shawn’s behavior?
Is there more than one goal involved?
How can Shawn’s parents respond helpfully?

  5.   Glen, 14, repeatedly ignores his stepfather’s requests, such as “Turn out the light before leaving a room.” Glen’s comment is, “You’re standing there, you turn it out.” His stepfather stands there with his jaw dropped, in shock. When his stepfather pushes the issue, Glen becomes angry, yells “You’re not my Dad,” and usually walks out of the house. What is the purpose of Glen’s behavior?

Is there more than one goal involved?
How could his stepfather prevent this from happening?
When it does happen, how can his stepfather respond helpfully?


D. Breaking Misbehavior Cycles. In the following scenario, the parent is trying to prevent and respond to a situation using effective parenting skills. The child, however, is still trying to get the parent hooked into a PO goal. Answer the questions.

  1.   Maria, 13, and her mother used to get into a lot of power struggles and arguments before her mom took a parenting class. Now, even when Mom gives her choices or avoids threats, Maria still tries to argue with her. On Wednesday, Mom told Maria, “The laundry needs done by Sunday evening.” Maria interrupts her and reacts as though her Mom said it had to be done yesterday! She twists her words around, complaining “I can’t go out or do anything all week!”

What is the purpose of Maria’s behavior?
What can Mom say or do next, without making matters worse?
Is there anything Mom could have done differently to prevent this?
  2.   Since George, 12, entered junior high, his friends have changed. Last night, when he came home, his eyes were bloodshot and he was not acting like himself. His parents confronted him, insisting he had been using alcohol or marijuana. After a heated argument, George admitted he had tried both, but only once. His parents forbade him from seeing those friends again. George says his parents are overreacting and that they can’t stop him from seeing the friends, since they go to school together.

What is George’s goal?
Is there anything George’s parents could have done differently when they first confronted him?
What can they do now, to address their concerns?

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Detailed  Answers



Identifying Positive Goals.



Answer is c.       

Bonnie did the dishes to repay her mother’s kindness, which is justice/ fairness.



Answer is a.   

Katie is showing her picture to get her father’s  involvement/ recognition.



Answer is d.   

George withdraws from conflict with his little sister.



Answer is b.   

Toby is excited about doing his hobby independently.



One Behavior, More than One Goal?



Refusing to talk can get extra attention when people fuss to get them to talk. They can have power by getting people to talk for them or by ignoring a request. It can be revenge, if it is the silent treatment. It could also be giving up, if they are afraid to talk or afraid of criticism if their speech sounds “funny.”



Running away can be a way to get attention, if children feel neglected. It is a cry to “notice me!” Or “Show me you care enough to find me.” It can be power, if it is a way to refuse to cooperate with rules, defy punishment, or show the child can’t be controlled. It can be revenge, if done in retaliation for punishment. It can also be giving up, if children have tried to resolve the parent/ child problem, but failed.



Boredom can be a way to get attention, if children want more parental involvement. It can be power, if children want the parent to be responsible for entertaining them. Revenge doesn’t apply here. Boredom can also be used to give up, if children don’t have skills to entertain themselves or really can’t think of anything to do.



C. Identifying and Redirecting Negative Goals.
1. Chelsea, 4, resented that her Mom made her play with a girl she didn’t like. She decided to get revenge on the girl. When she realized she’d be punished, Chelsea exerted her power by locking herself in the bathroom. Chelsea’s mom can first acknowledge Chelsea’s feelings, “I know you are upset and feel bad about what you did to ___. If you come out now and help clean up ___, you won’t be punished. If you don’t help clean up ___, you’ll be in ‘double trouble.’ We’ll discuss your discipline after she leaves.” Mom can acknowledge the little girl’s feelings and Chelsea’s, while cleaning up the girl. She can encourage Chelsea to apologize, but not force the issue. If Chelsea helps clean her at all, she is showing her regret. After the child has left, Mom can discuss Chelsea’s feelings further and what options she has when she doesn’t want to play with someone. An appropriate discipline would be giving up play privileges for a brief period.
2. Paul, 8, was falsely accused of cheating on a test. Because Paul’s teacher had labeled him a “poor student,” she didn’t believe his explanation. The fact that Paul studied extra hard and still can’t succeed was incredibly discouraging, so he is giving up. Since Paul tried to work out this problem with the teacher directly, the situation is greatly affecting Paul, and the teacher’s decision is in-credibly unfair, Paul’s parents are justified in getting involved. They can meet with Paul and the teacher, to verify that they saw Paul studying for this test. If the teacher didn’t actually see Paul cheat and is still unwilling to let him do extra credit work or retake the test, they should talk to the principal. In all these meetings, Paul’s parents want to serve as a mediator between Paul and the school personnel. If all attempts are unsuccessful, Paul’s parents can write a letter of formal complaint (detailing the facts, not making emotional accusations) to put in Paul’s record. Regardless of the outcome, the parents need to acknowledge Paul’s feelings and encourage his efforts and improvement. They can use the F-A-X process to help Paul get in touch with his self-motivation again. They can ask helpful questions to help Paul consider the possible consequences of getting an “F,” instead of a “D,” and of cutting classes. They can also brainstorm other plans to further resolve this problem or prevent a similar incident in the future. 

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  3. Jeff, 11, is trying to get attention with his “zooming.” Being 11, he may feel uncomfortable with hugging or other “childish” ways of showing affection. This might be a safer way for him to get the physical contact he wants. There are several options available. Mom can spend time with Jeff in the evenings, offering to scratch or rub his back. Maybe even playing sports would be a way to have physical contact. Mom doesn’t want to force Jeff to spend time with her; but can make it clear she is available. She can give positive attention to Jeff when he is not misbehaving or makes other, more appropriate attempts to get her attention. She might even want to say, “Do that again! I liked it!” If he really wants to aggravate her, he might stop if it isn’t working. Finally, Mom could just walk away, without saying anything, when she gets “zoomed.” No attention is less desirable than negative attention.
  4. Shawn, 12, broke his collarbone and argues about taking it easy. Shawn is used to having more independence and this injury has unexpectedly ripped it away. He downplays the risks of reinjury and wants the power to do more than the doctors and his parents are willing to let him do. Shawn’s parents need to keep acknowledging his frustration, discouragement, and boredom, but not coddle or overprotect him. Since serious medical and safety issues are involved, they need to remain firm about the bottom line—following the doctor’s orders and wearing safety gear. They need to focus on Shawn’s choices within those limits. They can make an extra effort to help Shawn find interesting non-physical activities and help him get together with friends.
  5. Glen, 14, ignores his stepfather’s requests. Anytime divorce or remarriage is involved, children probably have some underlying hurt feelings. If stepparents exert a parental role too soon or are too controlling, resentment and rebellion often follows. The purpose of Glen’s behavior is both revenge and power. His stepfather needs to build a relationship of trust and open communication before exerting his parental authority. If he uses the F-A-X Listening and Cooperation Toolsets, he can prevent some power and revenge struggles. When these fail, Glen’s stepfather needs to back up and acknowledge Glen’s perspective. “I know you don’t like me telling you what to do” or “It must be hard to feel you have to listen to someone you don’t consider your parent.” In blended families, more than most others, teamwork, family councils, and a united parental front are important. Autocratic parenting divides blended families and permissiveness prevents the new parent from taking his or her rightful place in the family. Mutual respect and balanced responses are essential if stepchildren are to develop any respect for a new step parent.
  D. Breaking  Misbehavior  Cycles.
  1. Maria, 13, is used to baiting her mom into arguments and having it work. Although Mom isn’t biting the bait, Maria is still going to try to start an argument, especially if she can get out of her responsibilities. Mom needs to ignore Maria’s dramatic performance. She can restate the choices and limits, “The laundry needs to be done by Saturday. That’s three days from now.” It’s your choice if you stay home until the laundry’s done. As far as I’m concerned, you can play all you want, if the job gets done.” At this point, Mom can ignore any further attempts by Maria to argue. Maria may not get started on the laundry immediately, but she has three days to get it done. Mom has time to wait and see if Maria chooses to accept her responsibility.
  2.  George, 12, has experimented with drugs and his parents are justifiably concerned. By late elementary school, most children have been exposed to drugs (either directly or they are simply aware of their presence). Experimentation usually begins as a way to gain acceptance from peers. Parents can help children find other ways to feel accepted by their peers. When involvement with drugs grows from experimentation to regular use, it is usually one of three reasons (or a combination of them): (1) peer acceptance (attention), (2) a way to prove the child has some power, or (3) to cope with an overwhelming problem (a Child problem). Drug use is always an indication of an “onion”; it masks some underlying issue


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George’s parents recognized the signs of his drug use and were wise to discuss their concerns. Unfortunately, they took an autocratic, controlling approach to the problem. This caused George to shift goals. He originally tried the drugs because he lost his childhood friends (a Child problem) and was seeking peer acceptance (attention). Now, because his parents forced an admission and forbid him from seeing these friends, George is exerting his power. He might sneak to see his friends and to use drugs, and he will probably get better at hiding the symptoms from his parents. George’s parents could have described the physical symptoms they saw and stated their concerns. They could have used the Child Problem Toolbox to determine the real issue behind George’s use and help George find more acceptable ways to meet his goal. Drug experimentation and use can quickly become problematic or addictive. It is important for parents to be educated and skillful when they first discuss the issue with their young teens. Their reactions at the early stages greatly determine whether the problem is resolved helpfully or becomes a more serious problem. Parents should seek professional consultation if they have any concerns.



We can practice identifying PO behavior daily, with children and adults. As we practice using all the tools in The Parent’s Toolshop, we more easily prevent and redirect PO behavior.

At this point in the book, many parents are already successfully redirecting many problem behaviors. Nevertheless, there are times we still need to go to the next step in the Universal Blueprint— discipline. When children make poor behavior choices, discipline helps them learn from their mistakes. Chapter 13, “Discipline Toolset,” defines the difference between discipline and punishment. It outlines the four important parts of effective discipline. The chapter then offers a variety of discipline choices available to us and details each tool’s proper use. When we use respectful, effective, healthy discipline tools, we reach two of our most important parenting goals—our children become self-responsible and self-disciplined.



  1. Parenting Young Children: Early Childhood S.T.E.P., by Donald Dinkmeyer, Gary McKay, and James S. Dinkmeyer (American Guidance Service, 1989) p. 34.
  2. For more information about Dreikurs’ goals of behavior, see Children: The Challenge, by Rudolf Dreikurs, M.D. with Vicki Soltz, R.M. (E.P. Dutton, 1964); S.T.E.P.: Systematic Training for Effective Parenting, by Donald Dinkmeyer, Sr. and Gary McKay (American Guidance Service, 1982); Positive Discipline, by Jane Nelsen (Ballantine, 1987, Revised 1996); or Active Parenting, by Michael Popkin (Harper Row, 1987).
  3. The “Lying” section summarizes some of the key points in Why Kids Lie: How Parents Can Encourage Truthfulness, by Paul Ekman, Ph.D. (1989, Penguin Books). Dr. Ekman’s book is a comprehensive, detailed report. I highly recommend reading this book for more information about lying.