When we think of a DYSFUNCTIONAL FAMILY it’s like a machine which is run by gears with weak or cracked cogs. As one cog breaks it puts more stress on the other cogs of that gear and then on other cogs of other gears. Eventually the whole machine shuts down. DYSFUNCTION means just that: unable to FUNCTION properly. Each individual in a family is like a gear and each perceived responsibility is like the cog. The main or original DYSFUNCTIONAL person may show their DYSFUNCTION in many ways: they may have difficulty coping, may yell, rage, isolate, verbally abuse, physically abuse, chemically abuse, gamble, cheat on their partner, threaten to leave, threaten suicide, give the silent treatment etc. This causes everyone to walk on eggshells and lots of CRAZY MAKING goes on.

The grown-ups or parent figures assume two roles: DYSFUNCTIONAL PERSON and the other plays the ENABLER. You decide which applies to your situation. In some cases the mother may be the DYSFUNCTIONAL PERSON and father the ENABLER and visa versa in other cases. Both roles play off each other. The DYSFUNCTIONAL PERSON is trapped in self delusion. They actually believe that they are justified in what they do and how they act. They have very distorted thinking. They seem to find ways to strengthen their own credibility and weaken everyone else’s in the family. Therefore, if anyone were to tell someone outside the family who the DYSFUNCTIONAL PERSON really was, many people would not really believe them because of the way they present themselves to the public.

The ENABLER also has distorted thinking and believes that they are basically responsible for the other person’s DYSFUNCTION. And they are therefore very fixated on the other person and often times appear to be uncaring or neglectful toward their children. But this person has only so much energy to go around and most of it goes toward the “squeakiest wheel,” the DYSFUNCTIONAL PERSON.

The children in the family may play more than one role at a time or only one. Each role gives the child their basic identity and shapes their script and future. The role also gives them their sense of worth and value. So they too get trapped in their roles and also develop distorted thought patterning. This is how the tapes, to be carried through life, about who we are and who we will become, begin to develop. Each role carries some aspect about the DYSFUNCTION of the whole family.

The following suggestions are for dealing with some of the typical behaviors of children from dysfunctional families.

A. “The Hero” is……always volunteering, very responsible and manifests a drive, almost a compulsion, to be on top. These students have an insatiable need for attention and approval and are often class leaders who are parental or bossy in their relationships with other peers. They tend to be very disappointed when losing, superior or snobbish when winning, and are frequently labeled “teacher’s pet” by other students.

Recommended adult behaviors:

1. Give attention at times when the student is not achieving.
2. Validate the student’s intrinsic worth, and try to separate his or her feelings or self-worth from achievements.
3. Let the student know it’s OK to make a mistake.

Adult behaviors to avoid:

1. Letting the student monopolize conversations or always be the first to answer a question or to volunteer.
2. Letting the student validate his or her self-worth by achieving.

B. “The Scapegoat”……tends to blame others, makes strong peer alliances, and is often disciplined by teachers or other adults for breaking rules. The rebel tends to talk back, neglects work, and can be very frustrating to work with. The typical adult comments are “I don’t know what to do with that kid,” or “I’ve tried everything!”

Recommended adult behaviors:

1. Let the student know when the behavior is inappropriate.
2. Give the student strokes whenever he or she takes responsibility for something.
3. Attempt to develop empathy for the student. This prevents adults from being angry or getting defensive.
4. Set limits. Give clear explanations of the student’s responsibilities and clear choices and consequences.

Adult Behaviors to avoid:

1. Feeling sorry for the student.
2. Treating the student as special and giving him/her more power.
3. Agreeing with the student’s complaints about other students or other adults.
4. Taking the student’s behavior personally or as a sign of one’s own incompetence as a teacher, counselor, pastor, volunteer, etc.

C. “The Mascot”……

tends to be funny or distracting and gets attention frequently. This student likes to hide, make faces, pull the chair out from someone else, stick chalk in the erasers and otherwise act out.

Recommended adult behaviors:

1. It’s OK to get appropriately angry at the “class clown’s” behavior.
2. Try to give the student a job in the class with some importance and responsibility.
3. Hold him/her accountable.
4. Encourage responsible behavior.
5. Encourage appropriate sense of humor.
6. Insist on eye contact.

Adult behaviors to avoid:

1. Do not try to “laugh with” the clown. He/she will not understand it.
2. Remember the class clown’s underlying fear.
3. Remember the underlying depression this behavior often masks.

D. “The Lost Child”……

often gets lost in the shuffle. Adults sometimes can’t remember the student’s name because he/she is so quiet and is seldom a behavior problem. These students tend to have few, if any, friends and like to work alone in group settings, often in very creative though non-verbal ways. Other students either leave them alone or tend to tease them about never getting involved.

Recommended adult behaviors:

1. Every adult should take an inventory. If there are names that you consistently cannot remember, that may be a lonely or lost student.
2. Try to pick on their personal interests and often they will begin to talk.
3. Try some contact on a one-to-one basis. Find out who they are!
4. Point out and encourage the student’s strengths, talents and creativity.
5. Use touch slowly.
6. Help the student to be in a relationship. There will usually be one student they are drawn to in the class.
7. Encourage working in small groups, two’s and three’s, to build trust and confidence.

Adult behaviors to avoid:

1. Do not let the student off the hook by allowing him/her to remain silent or never calling on them.
2. Do not let other kids take care of the student by talking or answering for him/her.

E. “The Caretaker”……

tends to focus on helping other people feel better. They are motherly in their relationships to other students. This is usually a “liked” child by friends and adults. This student’s sensitivity is noticeable.

Recommended adult behaviors:

1. Assist the student on focusing on him/herself.
2. Ask the student to identify their desires for themselves.
3. Help this kids learn to play.
4. When they are assisting another, ask them to identify how they are feeling about the other’s pain.
5. Validate the student’s intrinsic worth, separating their worth from their care-taking.

Adult behaviors to avoid:

1. Calling on these students to focus on another’s emotional pain.