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5 Reasons Why Children Act Up

People write me all the time and say, “Mother Wit, I don’t know what’s wrong with my child.”  “My child has lost his mind.”  Or, “I just can’t seem to understand why my child does some of the crazy things she does.”

Let me tell you something, I’ve been there with my own kids and so I feel the frustration.  I swear, there were times when my kids pushed me to the point when I felt like I could have strangled them.

But over the years I’ve come to realize that a child’s main job is to figure out how to find their way in this big challenging world and to figure out how things work.  And what that means is that as they grow up they will test their parents and see what lines they can get away with crossing.

Now, I know this is frustrating to all you parents and guardians out there.  But you must remember that acting up at home, in school, or out in public is perfectly normal behavior.  Sometimes misbehaving is a sign that they are growing up and trying to establish their independence from you.

When I was a young single parent raising my kids I didn’t know much about the different stages of child development and so I often responded to my kid’s behaviors in ways that were not always appropriate, healthy, or effective.  A lot of times I disciplined them from a place of fear, because I didn’t know any better, and because I didn’t have the right tools.  But more importantly, I had no basic understanding of why children misbehave in the first place. So now that I’m a grandmomma and I’ve learned from many of my own parenting missteps, I’d like to share with you a few tips you need to keep in mind that will help you understand why kids act up.

1.Children want your attention.
When my grandbabies act up, I know they are doing it to get my attention.  Sometimes they might be feeling a little anxious, bored, insecure, hungry, tired or uncomfortable because their needs might not be getting met.

I think that sometimes they have mistaken beliefs about their relationship with me.  So they test me to see if I really believe the things I say to them.  I have to remember to be firm and consistent.  That doesn’t mean that I have to holler and do a lot of talk, talk, talking.  I find that talking about what I’m going to do if they don’t act right doesn’t do much good.  It only gives them the attention they want from you.

You need to have your mind set on what YOU will do, not what you will try to make your child do.  What I try to do is ignore the misbehaviors (be reasonable about it though) and try to get them to do behaviors that are useful for or else.  Now, for me, “or else” means that I will impose some logical, non-violent consequences for their behavior.

2.Children don’t always know what is expected of them.
As I said earlier, when I was raising my kids I had little understanding about what children can do at each stage of their development and so I had unrealistic expectations about their behaviors and their ability to understand what I wanted from them.  They didn’t understand my rules, and I held them to expectations that were beyond their age levels.

I used to get angry when I told my 3-year-old to clean up his room and he didn’t finish the job.  I didn’t realize that I needed to stay in the room with him to help guide him through the task and give him verbal support until he finished.

3. Children misbehave when they are afraid.
I used to hit and threaten my kids.  I thought this was the best way to keep an upper hand and control as the parent.  But I didn’t realize that when my kids felt threatened or afraid, they’d act out as a way of protecting themselves.  Looking back, I should have asked them about their feelings and found ways to make them feel safe and heard instead of minimizing their feelings or telling them that they needed to get some thicker skin when they were bullied by other kids.

4. Children misbehave when they feel bad about themselves.
I grew up in a house where my brothers and I didn’t get a lot of praise and affection from our parents.  Our parents loved us, but they didn’t believe in “babying” us.  They said they wanted to raise us to be tough kids who would be strong enough to stand on our own feet in a cruel world.  I raised my kids the same way but have come to realize that children act out sometimes because they feel bad about themselves.  If kids feel bad, then they act badly.  Adults have to do as much as they can to encourage children and to boost their self-esteem.  Children need praise and encouragement.  And you need to give them compliments for their achievements and positive behaviors instead of just harping on their misbehaviors.

5. Children learn bad behaviors by copying you.
Your children learn by watching YOU.  So don’t be surprised if some of the negative behaviors you model for them show up in their behaviors.  So if you curse, then it is unreasonable for you to get upset when your child uses bad language.  If you yell, they will copy you.  And if you hit them, then they will think it is appropriate to hit others.  You have to change your behaviors and be consistent in what you teach and what you say.

Stay tuned for Mother Wit’s next blog post: 5 Reasons Why Children Don’t Misbehave.

5 comments on 5 Reasons Why Children Act Up

  1. Raquel says:

    My son’s behavioral problems were because of his diet. He was sensitive to natural pesticides, food dyes and additives that caused his problems. Lots of children are. I removed them from his diet, per the Dr. Feingold diet, aka, ADHD diet, and he was a different child within days. His aggression was gone, literally overnight.

  2. Raquel says:

    I’m glad that spanking isn’t in my discipline plan. I’d feel horrible doing it anyway, but especially if it’s for behavior that he can’t even control.

  3. Ashley Drapkin says:

    Academic difficulties are also frequent. The symptoms are especially difficult to define because it is hard to draw a line at where normal levels of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity end and clinically significant levels requiring intervention begin. To be diagnosed with ADHD, symptoms must be observed in two different settings for six months or more and to a degree that is greater than other children of the same age.

  4. patty says:

    ok, i know this article is a million years old, but my baby sister is 4 years old. i’m the eldest out of all of us, so im usually tasked with keeping an eye on her. she acts great around me: she’s responsive, does the things i ask of her, and generally seems to understand how she needs to behave. she isnt fantastic with english, but she can convey basic ideas and understands most of the words coming out of my mouth when i explain something, so we can carry “conversations” (if one can have a conversation with a 4yo). if she does start acting up, i sit her in timeout for a while and if she wont behave in timeout, then i take something away from her like TV or tablet time, and if she keeps pushing after that, then i’ll give her a smack on the wrist – which i actually havent had to do in a long time. she’s generally a saint when it’s just me and her. when our dad is in charge however, its like she deliberately goes out of her way to be AWFUL to EVERYONE, without provocation, or honestly, really ANY rhyme or reason. she pushes and pushes and pushes until EVERYONE in the WHOLE HOUSE is aggravated and then she KEEPS going??? she literally runs amok, she’s rude to everyone even if we’re trying to be nice or play with her or talk with her, and even after she’s been sat in timeout, even after she’s had all her things taken away from her, even after dad’s spanked her, she will not stop!!!!! i dont understand it. she KNOWS how to act and how we expect her to act because i have seen it myself consistently for months now!!! i dont understand why she is so horrible all the time ONLY when others are in the house!! when its just me and her, shes an angel!!! but as soon as our middle sister or dad step through the door, its like she undergoes some transmogrification into satanspawn!!!!!! and when she’s like this, she ignores everything we’re trying to tell her or explain to her why her behavior is bad, she refuses to listen to us and opposes everything we say and there isnt any way get through to her with words. i HATE hitting her or physically forcing her to do things, so when she’s unresponsive, refuses to listen to us, and continues behaving like the backside of a mule, what do we do? :/

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