How to Figure Out Why Your Child Misbehaves

Three Parts:Investigating MisbehaviorPinpointing the Cause of MisbehaviorHandling Misconduct

Sure, kids will be kids. But when does misbehavior become a problem that needs addressing? If your child has recently started acting out or disobeying the rules, this sudden change requires your attention. Examine the behavior and work with your child and others to determine the cause. Only then can you enforce better guidelines to eliminate acting out behaviors.

Part 1
Investigating Misbehavior

  1. 1
    Be observant. The first thing to do when trying to determine the root of your child’s misbehavior is to watch him or her closely. To make it easier on you, select one problem behavior and observe what the child does as well as when and how. Getting all the details about this undesirable behavior can eventually help you answer the “why.”[1]
    • For instance, maybe your daughter starts yelling at the dinner table each night. Each time you notice that she does this right after the adults have been discussing their jobs. Maybe she does not like serious talk during dinner. Or, maybe she simply wants the adults’ attention.
  2. 2
    Ask your child. In some situations, your child may be old enough or have enough self-awareness to explain acting out behavior. This may seem like common sense, but many parents overlook the possibility of getting information from the actual source: your child.[2]
    • Pull your child aside for some private, one-on-one time. It may be helpful to have this conversation while engaging in another activity (e.g. washing dishes or baking cookies) to avoid intimidating your child. Join your child in the activity and say “I’ve noticed you keep missing the bus each morning. Do you want to talk to me about that?”
    • Opening the floor for some dialogue may help you learn that your child is getting picked on while riding the bus. He or she is missing the bus consistently to avoid getting bullied.
  3. 3
    Reach out for others’ opinions. Getting another perspective on misbehavior can also be helpful in understanding its causes. When you notice your child acting out, take the opportunity to speak with other adults. Ask your child’s teacher, school counselor, coach, babysitter, and other relatives whether they have noticed any misbehavior.[3]
    • Figuring out the context in which misbehavior is most likely to happen can be informative. For instance, if your child acts out only during soccer practice, it may help you narrow down why the misconduct is happening.
  4. 4
    Consider your own behavior. Most parents have their share of stories of how their daughters pretended to put on makeup or swaddled baby dolls. Or, how their sons built imaginary structures or drove monster trucks. Children learn by imitating the adults around them. Unfortunately, this learning is not selective.[4]
    • There’s a chance that misbehavior on the part of your child was learned in the home by watching his or her parents and older siblings. Behaviors are also picked up vicariously through television and movies.
    • Be mindful of the behaviors you model at home. Recognize that young children are more likely to copy your actions, no matter if your words say otherwise.

Part 2
Pinpointing the Cause of Misbehavior

  1. 1
    Identify if your child needs outlets for stress and strong emotions. Children may experience upsetting events and strong feelings that they do not know how to handle. Powerful emotions can feel overwhelming to a small child who doesn’t understand them. If this is the case with your child, acting out behavior is like his or her very own personal SOS message.[5]
    • If your child is overcome by big emotions like fear or anxiety, it can help to ensure safety first. Once your child feels safe, he or she may be more capable of talking about the problem.
  2. 2
    Decide if they need more autonomy. A strong need for independence could be driving misbehavior in your child. If you continue to make your child conform to guidelines set when he or she was younger, they may act out as a form of rebellion.
    • For instance, your seven year old is perfectly capable of tying his shoes, but you still attempt to do it for him. He may kick or throw his shoes around because you are taking away his opportunity to display newly developed skills.
    • Watch him or her carefully and check out the skillsets being demonstrated. Look for ways you can let your child be more autonomous. This may include helping you choose outfits, cleaning up toys from the playroom, or bathing.[6]
  3. 3
    Be sure you are setting age-appropriate rules. You have a really young child, but you tried to be proactive by setting guidelines that are a little above his or her age range. If your child has not yet reached certain developmental milestones, putting certain rules into place will only lead to them disobeying.
    • Don’t assume that your child automatically knows how to do anything, unless you have explicitly taught them. If your child is very young, the best solution may simply be to remove temptations for misbehavior or childproof your home.[7]
    • Consider this example: you are upset because your three-year-old goes into your cabinets and helps herself to a snack all throughout the day. Rather than telling her “Wait until after dinner,” you can prevent this by moving all snacks to higher cabinets or using childproof guards so that she can’t open them.
  4. 4
    Deliberate on whether misbehavior is a plea for attention. If your child lives in a household where the adults and older siblings are often preoccupied with chores, work, or TV, he or she may act out to get noticed. Perhaps your child does not often get positive attention, such as affection or praise, so he or she has learned to misbehave in order to receive negative attention.[8]
    • If you are regularly preoccupied and unable to allot much attention to your child, you may need to spend some time reconfiguring your priorities in order to resolve misbehavior. Just giving each of your children a few minutes of your undivided attention each day is a great start.
    • Other ways to minimize attention-seeking behavior is by praising your child for doing good and ignoring acting out behavior. Instead of scolding or punishing, refrain from talking about the misbehavior and simply send the child to time-out. When time’s up, invite him or her to return to the common area and encourage positive behaviors.[9]
  5. 5
    Check for physical or mental illness. In some instances of misbehavior, the problem is too big for the parents to fix on their own. Examples include medical conditions, psychiatric disorders, or behavioral issues that require professional treatment. However, it is helpful to still be observant of this sort of misbehavior since it can inform a doctor or other provider on how to care for your child.
    • If you are unable to find a likely cause for problem behavior, you may need to talk with your child’s pediatrician about exploring other options.[10]

Part 3
Handling Misconduct

  1. 1
    Develop a parenting plan. Not having a parenting plan is like a coach hitting the field with no clear guidelines for how his players should play the game. When the rules aren’t clear, the players are bound to disappoint.
    • Sit down with your co-parent if you have one and devise a tentative set of rules to enforce in your family. These should include specific no-nos like “No running in the house” and “No jumping on the furniture.” However, you should also include your expectations for character traits and attitudes that you would like your children to strive for, such as sharing and honesty.
    • Once you have created a game plan, have a family meeting and share these guidelines with your children. Furthermore, as a defense against bad behavior, you may want to include a rewards and consequences system so that your children understand the outcome for following or breaking your family rules.[11]
  2. 2
    Strive for consistency. Inconsistency is an important aspect of raising well-behaved children. Whether it's positive or negative, do what you say you will. Children are very good at remembering promises of rewards or consequences. They are prompted to act out when you fail to deliver on either.[12]
    • This sets the tone that doing well doesn’t result in anything and neither does doing poorly. Therefore, your child acts out and is disrespectful because you haven’t been consistent with your parenting plan.
    • If you promise to provide a treat, follow through. If you say there will be consequences to misconduct, apply them. Avoid empty threats, or promises.
  3. 3
    Resist power struggles. Similar to any other relationship, in parenting, you have to carefully pick your battles. You need to decide for yourself which issues require a lecture or consequence and which don’t. Otherwise, you will set yourself up for a power struggle in which your strong-willed child is constantly challenging your authority.[13]
    • Choose your battles by thinking about how important an issue is in the grand scheme of things. Ask yourself: will this matter in a month? A year? If not, let it go.
  4. 4
    Offer a fresh start. As a parent of a misbehaving child, your goal should not only be to eliminate an undesirable behavior, but to also make sure it is isolated. In other words, you don’t want one bad behavior leading to another and another. A fresh start at appropriate behavior minimizes the chances of negative behaviors increasing because you have set expectations that they won’t.
    • Instead of labeling your child as “bad” or telling him or her “You always…,” present the opportunity for your child to improve. After consequences have been implemented say to your child, “Everyone makes mistakes. I know that you can do better now.”[14]

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Categories: Creating Life Balance