Understanding Your Child’s Bad Behavior

Kids are naturally prone to being curious and sometimes act up. Bad behavior is just as much a part of growing up as learning how to walk and talk, but it is no excuse. If you recognize the fact that bad behavior is a part of development and understand why it happens, you can get a handle on it before it starts. Understanding why kids act up is an important element in changing the behavior. It is almost impossible to determine what every reason is for your child’s misbehavior but there are a few common key factors that may have initiated the behavior. Instead of getting angry, empathize with your child and you will see what the real problem is, not just the symptom. Here are some common reasons kids act up and how to stop it.

Just like you and me, when kids are hot, hungry, tired, or not feeling well they get crabby and short-tempered. They don’t yet have the skills necessary to control their emotions, you have to teach them. As adults, when we are cranky and irritable, we choose not to control our feelings but by doing so we teach our children bad behavior. If you want your children to learn what is acceptable and what is not you have to show them through your actions. When you have a breakdown it results in teaching your kids it is okay to throw a tantrum or to have a major meltdown, or to cry, and hit.

A tired or hungry child is like a devil waiting to throw a wrench in your plans. Whether you are at the grocery store or visiting a friend you child can become a walking, talking, screaming, crying embarrassment at any moment if they are tired, hungry, or not feeling well. Try to arrange your schedule around nap time if possible. Children don’t learn much self control until they reach age 5 or 6. The terrible two’s and three’s can be quite challenging at times but you have to understand your child has not yet learned how to properly express themselves.

When it comes to food and sleep, anticipation of your child’s needs is crucial. To avoid sleep and food shortages carry extra snacks in your diaper bag or purse, as well as some small games or paper and crayons (crayons are especially great because they do not stain clothing and car seats like markers and pens). When your child begins to freak out, stay calm and reassure them everything is going to be okay. Provide comfort, love, and something else to think about (that’s what the games are for in your purse). Don’t be intimidated by puppy eyes or disapproving glances. It’s a trick, and yes – it tugs at the heart strings but you must be consistent and not cave in.

Sometimes scary situations (perceived or real) can make your child act in ways they normally wouldn’t. Even the mildest mannered child will act out when they are scared, just like you and I do. It’s easy to forget the things we take for granted might be scary to kids. Like when seeing family after an extended period of time your child will not remember everyone like you do. Especially around age 2 and 3 it seems like everyone may want to pick up your child. This can be especially frightening for children because their long term memory has not yet developed and they see these people as strangers. Don’t be furious when your child screams, cries, and kicks just understand they might be scared of something you did not perceive.

Acknowledge your child’s fears and empathize with them. Help them find words to fit what they are feeling. Make your expectations of their behavior crystal clear in a positive way. If you can, find some way to counter the fright with creativity. Maybe you can suggest that your little one go and introduce himself to as many people as possible, or maybe he can help you serve drinks and meet people.

Children naturally seek attention and their need springs from two main sources. Either they want more than you can give from the start or they nag you while you are on the phone or visiting with a friend. Children are eager to share their findings and discoveries with mom and dad. Children want love, it is primal need and they will seek it as often as they can, even if you are busy. When children are around age 2-4 they do not understand you cannot give them time right now.

To prevent worse aggravation from your nagging child provide small doses of love throughout the day. When your child is asking you a question or showing you the latest discovery (even if it’s the 17th red rock you’ve seen today) pay full attention. If you have a baby or toddler just give in because they do not understand yet. If you really can’t give them the time, give them a handful of spoons or some pots and pans, anything to distract them. If you have older children be very specific and explain clearly what you can and can’t do and then ignore them. Within a few minutes of this treatment your child will likely find something else to amuse them self with.

Pushing the envelope is what we do as humans; it is part of our nature. Part of how we progress in life is testing the waters, and this included our parents, meaning your kids will do it to you too. Children want to know exactly what they can get away with. Choose your battles wisely because there will be many of them. Don’t give in with older children, but be sympathetic and consistent.

Parents are always extremely happy the minute they notice their child knows right from wrong. But kids aren’t born knowing what is right from wrong. Your children will test the waters over and over again. Just be patient as they learn. Children generally have no impulse control until around age 4 or 5 (school age). A three year old might see a piece of candy or a toy he wants and he knows that it is not his to take, but once the thought of it enters his mind it is impossible to get rid of. Once he thinks of it, he may not be able to stop himself from taking whatever it is that he wants, even if he knows it is not his.

Curiosity and imagination are the prime factors for most children’s decisions until they are about 5. Set clear rules and expectations and then brace yourself for the tears because they will come too. Make sure your feelings are known about your child’s behavior and let them know that what they do matters to you. Instead of being infuriated help your children fix their mistakes.

We’ll never understand every reason our children act up, but you can develop your own range of tolerance. Knowing why doesn’t always make it less irritating but may point your attention to a problem you did not notice. If you explode, they will learn it is okay to explode. Remain calm because you teach by your actions, and more often than not, actions speak louder than words. If you demonstrate the proper behavior, so will your child.

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