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Why Does Ashley Act That Way?

Updated on February 9, 2015

Illuminate Me

This article is written very simply, repeating words intentionally for emphasis. There was an old song that my dad used to sing to me. I don't remember the entire song, but I remember the repeated words that made the song both silly and memorable. It went

"I was looking back to see if

she was looking back to see if

I was looking back to see if

she was looking back at me."

I chose to use this technique so the content would be remembered. As a behavior specialist, I believe our behavior is a major factor in the way we are viewed by the rest of the world. While we cannot control the behavior of others, we shouldn't be forced to tolerate behavior that feeds the ego of the person at our expense.

I Want it Now.


Now How Does That Help Me?

Very simply put, when you want to stop someone's behavior, stop giving them what they want.

Explain that please!

Behavior Issue #1:

Your co-worker is constantly late. She asks you to clock in for her because she knows you get to work early. No one in management knows she's late because her time stamp consistently reads just like yours. Not only do you clock in for her, but make excuses if someone asks for her. You also answer her phone and make excuses as to why she can't come to the phone. You take her messages and she returns the calls later in the day. Along the way, you've fussed about it and she has promised to come to work earlier. But she hasn't changed her behavior. Why hasn't she? Why should she? She is getting everything she wants. Why would she want to change? You are covering for her and doing her work. Why does she need to be there?

But now you are tired of covering for her. You wish someone would find out about this. They would--if you'd stop clocking her in and making excuses for her. She is late because she knows you will clock in for her. She can come to work late and get the same pay as everyone else because you are clocking in for her. If you want her to start coming in on time, tell her you will no longer clock in for her. When she stops getting what she wants, she will change her behavior.

Behavior Issue #2

Your teenage daughter will not help with laundry like you've asked her to do. She changes clothes several times a day. Most of the laundry is hers, but she never helps wash, dry, or even fold her own clothes. Finally you get tired of looking at that pile of clothes and wash them yourself. She runs in that afternoon and yells something that sounds a little like gratitude. Then you hear "Oh good, my favorite top is clean. I'll wear it tonight."

Why doesn't she help with the laundry? Why should she help with the laundry? So far, even though she hasn't helped, the chore has been completed and her favorite top is clean so she can wear it tonight.

When will she start helping with the laundry? When she comes in and her favorite top is not clean and she can't wear it tonight.

Oh, my goodness, what will she wear? You asked passionately. Although she won't believe this is possible, much research has revealed that no teenage girl has ever died from being forced to wear something other than her favorite top.

But she is going to be unhappy.

Yes, she is and she will live through that also.

She is going to throw a rip roaring fit.

Yes, she is and you will both live through that.

She is going to scream.

Yes, she is and don't you dare scream back. That only gives her permission to become more dramatic. Stand calmly by or continue doing whatever you are doing. When she comes up for air--and she will--calmly say, "If you wanted to wear that top, you should have washed a load of clothes and made sure it was clean."

Then she will tell you what she really believes. "That's not my job. That's your job." BINGO! There it is. Now you know why she doesn't help with laundry. This of course opens up an entirely different line of communication which we will discuss at a later time.

The bottom line is that when you see someone isn't acting the way you want, stop giving what they want and they will change their behavior.

For more information about acting out go to Empowering Parents.

Understanding Why

This really isn't difficult to understand, although philosophers have been trying to answer the question of what makes us do the things we do since the first century. Abu Zayd al-Balkhi, born in 850 CE, produced books on the study of mental, spiritual, and cognitive therapy. In other words he wanted to fix what was wrong in our minds, souls and brains. Many other philosophers followed after him. Sigmund Freud, born in 1856, had it all figured out. The reason we act the way we do is because:

  • Our mothers didn't really love us.
  • Our mothers loved us too much.
  • We aren't getting enough sex.
  • We are getting too much sex.

That pretty much sums up his philosophy of our problems.

The real answer to why we act a certain way: It Works.

Behavior is a means to an end. Behavior serves a function. We act the way we act to get what we want. We will continue to act the way we act as long as we get what we want. When we stop getting what we want, we will act differently. Why? Because the behavior didn't work; therefore, we will change or modify our behavior to get what we want. When our behavior no longer works, we will change the behavior to something that does work.

Two Reasons for Any Behavior

There are only two reasons for any behavior or action we take.

  • To get or gain something.
  • To avoid something.

Think about it.

Q. Why do you go to work?

A. To bring home a paycheck.

Counter: That's not true. I don't work for the money. I work because I love my job.

Counter Question: If they stopped paying you, would you continue to go to work?

Counter Answer: Well I have to get paid.

So you do work for the money.

You work to gain or get the paycheck.

Q. Why did Ashley throw a fit in the grocery store?

A. She wanted a toy.

Counter Question: Did she get the toy?

Counter Answer: Yes, she did. Why does she act that way?

Because it works.

Q. Why is the baby crying?

A. He wants to be held.

Counter Question: What happens when he cries?

Counter Answer: Someone holds him. Why is he so spoiled? Why does he cry?

Because it works.

Q. Why does Bill always drive less than the speed limit?

A. He doesn't want a ticket.

Counter Question: Does he get tickets?

Counter Answer: No he avoids getting tickets because of his drive habits.

He avoids the ticket he hates. It works.

We are only going to engage in any behavior as long as it gets us what we want or avoids what we don't want. As soon as we see that our behavior isn't working, we shift gears. Have you ever watched a small child cry because he didn't get his way? Every once in a while, he'll look to see if his parents are paying attention. Then he goes back to crying.

If the behavior gets us what we want, we will continue the behavior. If the behave avoids what we don't like, we will continue the behavior.

Teen's Room


Talk to Me

What is the behavior that bothers you the most about your child/children?

See results

Knowing What Works


Looking Forward

I write about behavior often. It is one thing that people think 'nothing I can do about it." That is an absolutely false statement. You can shape the behavior of the other person by the choices you make. I will be writing more on this subject in the future. Please come visit often. You just might pick up a tip on handling that difficult child, teenager, or adult in the home.


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    • profile image

      jean barrett 

      4 years ago

      Should be very helpful. Wish I had had something like this when I was raising my family. I'd have less regrets.

    • Suzanne Sullivan profile image

      Suzanne Sullivan 

      4 years ago from New Jersey

      I was going to say that sometimes it's not that simple but as I thought about it, maybe it really is. Thank you for your article. It is definite food for thought.


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