One of the most common expressions parents can be heard saying is, “I don’t understand why he’s/she’s doing that”. There are eight, very common reasons why children misbehave. It is extremely useful for parents to know these because if they can pinpoint the root cause of the misbehavior, they can be more successful at reducing it.
Listed here are the eight most common reasons why children misbehave and a solution to help reduce or eliminate the problem:
1) They want to test whether caregivers will enforce rules.
Children’s main job is to figure out how their complex world works. In order to master the things they need to at each developmental level they will test their parents. They are literally trying to see where the boundaries are, or, if they exist at all. Although testing is frustrating for parents they should know that it is normal and that this is their chance to really make a difference in their child’s life.
How? By setting boundaries and limits and consistently following through on them. This way, their children will adopt positive values and gain self-esteem
2) They experience different sets of expectations between school and home.
Consistency is hugely important in making a child feel safe and secure and able to have a comfortable understanding of the world and how it works. If they are receiving mixed messages from home and school they will feel uneasy inside and express this through more testing than normal and will feel an inner sense of stress.
The best thing a parent can do is learn a simple method to discipline and then have a conversation with their child’s teacher. During this conversation, the parents should explain their method and ask how the teacher handles situations. The goal is to try and use some of the same language at both the school and at home. With a consistent, clear message, children will rise to the expectation and be happier in the process.
3) They do not understand the rules, or are held to expectations that are beyond their developmental levels.
Sometimes, parent expectations go beyond their child’s abilities. Discipline and guidance strategies should always take into account the child’s developmental level. For example, it would be unreasonable to tell a 2 year old to clean up his room and expect that he will finish the job. At this age, children need a lot of support and guidance to do a job like this.
Reading books about what children can do at each age is helpful with this problem so that parents can know what is developmentally appropriate for them to expect of their child.
4) They want to assert themselves and their independence.
Children begin to show their desire for more independence at around age two. They start to want control over certain areas of their life so that they can feel capable and independent. It doesn’t take long for children to identify the areas they CAN control, much to the chagrin of parents. Situations like eating, sleeping, brushing teeth, and dressing are great examples of times when children recognize their power to get you upset and therefore make them feel in control.
What is the solution? Give them loads of choice in their daily life so that they feel in control of their life in other, more positive ways. As well, it is key to learn a simple, loving method to discipline so that misbehavior are taken care of easily, without any emotion required. Without emotion, there is no reason for the child to want to rebel in order to gain control.
5) They feel ill, bored, hungry or sleepy.
When children’s basic needs aren’t met regularly each day they are always more likely to misbehave, cry, throw a tantrum, etc.
The solution to this is simple: have a routine where the child eats, has individual play time, parent and child play or interaction time and sleeps.
6) They lack accurate information and prior experience.
When children do something such as go to cross a road for the first time, they do not know that they are supposed to look both ways, so we all know that we must explain to them to look left and look right, etc. However, the same technique needs to be applied to discipline situations. Children will repeat a behavior over and over until they have accurate information as to what they should be doing instead and prior experience of the consequence if they continue the behavior.
Using clear, concise language stating what they “need” to be doing rather than what they “shouldn’t” be doing is extremely important. Better to say, “Carry this carefully”, rather than, “Don’t drop this”. In other words, give them something to use as prior knowledge for next time.
7) They have been previously “rewarded” for their misbehavior with adult attention.
No parent would ever think of purposefully rewarding bad behavior, but it subtly happens quite often.
Remember, negative attention is still attention so if they misbehave and their parent either yells or spanks, they have just been rewarded.
If the child whines, cries or throws a tantrum and mom or dad eventually gives in to make them become quiet, they have just been rewarded.
The solution? Say what you expect without emotion and then follow through consistently if they continue the negative behavior. The two keys here are: no emotion and little talking.
8) They copy the actions of their parents.
The best teacher of how to misbehave or act and speak inappropriately is by watching mom or dad misbehave or act and speak inappropriately. Remember, what children see and experience in the home is what their normal is. So, if they see mom and dad yelling, they will yell. If they get spanked, they will likely use hitting to express their anger or frustration. If they hear, “What?” instead of “Pardon?” that is what they will use. How can we expect any different?
Although not always simple, parents need to look at parenting as a life lesson in personal growth. I always say that children can make open and willing parents into the best human beings in the world because they have the opportunity to practice being their best selves every single day of the year. Looking at parenting this way makes it easier to catch oneself more often and start demonstrating good behavior by modeling it.
Erin Kurt, B.Ed, spent 16 years as a teacher and nanny around the world. Now, she applies her expertise as a parenting expert and author of Juggling Family Life. You can learn more about Erin and her simple, loving parenting method, and subscribe to her weekly parenting tips e-zine at ErinParenting.com.