NDSU Extension Service - Ramsey County


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When Children Misbehave

When Children Misbehave


          Children are frequent question askers – “Why is the sky blue?”, “When is it my birthday?”, “Why can’t I have candy?”  Parents ask questions too- often questions referring to children’s behavior –“Why is he/she acting like that?!”

          Children misbehave for many reasons.  Tired, overwhelmed, scared, hungry, excited and even happy to see someone can all be reasons for a child to act out.  Once you understand why a young child is misbehaving, it is easier to choose effective guidance techniques to handle the situation.             The most common reason for a child to suddenly become a behavior monster is not feeling well. Children need 8-12 hours of sleep each night, healthful foods served on a regular and timely basis, fresh air, and exercise every day. Without these essentials, just like adults, children are hard to get along with.  It shouldn’t be a surprise that many discipline problems occur around mealtimes.  Planned meals, bedtimes and naptimes make an enormous difference to a child.

          Some children misbehave to get attention.  To a child, any type of attention is better than no attention. Some children feel their parents do not like them or do not talk to them or spend time with them. This leads to children who act up to gain attention.  Children who feel this way may even try to get in trouble with other adults, at school or other social situations in order to be noticed by their parent. Give your child attention when he or she is behaving well.  Don’t let misbehavior times be the only time you notice your child.

          Children misbehave when they are discouraged.  From the moment they are born, children are full time students – they need to learn a language, social skills and motor skills all the while growing into a new size body every few weeks. Adults forget how difficult all that can be and are often too quick to tell a child when they do something wrong and forget to tell them what they are doing right. Children who believe that they are bad will act bad and perhaps hurt others. A child who believes he or she is stupid will not do well in school. Children need praise and approval, even for small things like saying “thank you.  Try to show your child the same courtesy and encouragement that you give your adult friends.

          Children may misbehave when they do not know what to do in a new setting or circumstance. Children make mistakes when they are learning something new; for instance, falling often when learning to walk, or mispronouncing new words.  Some acts that parents refer to as wrong are simply mistakes.  Try to anticipate new situations your child may encounter and talk about what they will be like. Discuss the problems and choices of behavior a child needs to make when exposed to a new setting.

          Children test their parent’s discipline as a way of establishing their own identity. They want to know that their parents truly mean what they say. Misbehavior can occur when a child checks to see which behaviors the parent likes and dislikes. Be firm about what is important to you and the behaviors you value, in order to meet the goals you have for your child..

          And finally, children sometimes misbehave as it is a way to get what they want.  If the misbehavior has worked in the past, it may continue, whether it is wanting another child’s toy or the parent’s attention. For this reason, when you stop rewarding a child’s tantrum behaviors, the child’s first response is to throw more tantrums.  Make sure you are not unintentionally rewarding unwanted behavior;   don’t be surprised if an unwanted behavior increases at first when it has stopped being rewarded and show your child an alternative way to get what they want.

          Children feel love and acceptance when you listen to them talk about their thoughts, feelings, and safety. Be generous and sincere with your approval and praise. Try to say at least five positive things to your child for each time you criticize and see if some of that misbehavior disappears.


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