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Why Kids Misbehave

The truth is, misbehavior is as much a part of childhood as nose-picking and scraped knees are. But that doesn't mean we should excuse it when Johnny plays Frisbee with Grandma's special china or Cindy ties her stroller to the dog's tail  -- again. If you view acting up as a normal part of development  -- and not just a sign of parental inadequacy  -- you can get a step up on stopping it.

Understanding why children engage in bad behavior is critical to curbing it, says Harvey Karp, M.D., a pediatrician and author of the book and DVD The Happiest Toddler on the Block. If you can empathize instead of just getting angry, your discipline is more likely to address the cause of a problem instead of just the symptom. Some common reasons kids act up, and how you can control it:

Not knowing right from wrong
Kids aren't born knowing all of our rules. The world is their stage, your freshly painted Italian Straw walls their canvas, their own poop a remarkably convenient medium. They'll be drawn to experiment, again and again. It's how they learn. And their need to explore is pretty much inversely proportional to their impulse control. So even if a 3-year-old is aware that he shouldn't draw on the table, he might not be able to stop himself once the fabulous idea enters his head.

What to do:
Set clear rules and expectations. And of course do so before unpleasant incidents. You can do so gently: "And remember, we only draw on the paper. No drawing anywhere but the paper."

Make your feelings known. "Without blame or shame, state what you can see, and what you feel," Airhart says. (I see crayon all over the walls! I am really angry!) Then pause to let that sink in so he'll actually feel the consequences of his actions.

Don't worry if he cries. If you haven't yelled and frightened him, crying means he feels remorse. Remorse is good. Give him a second, then give him a hug.

Have him help fix the mistake. This not only clarifies what he did wrong but teaches about problem solving, consequences, and ultimately about how the world works.

Brace yourself. It will happen again.

Heidi Raykeil is an editor and columnist for the website [TOUT_LINK {http://www.literarymama.com} {Literarymama.com}].

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