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Children, like adults, have the inherent need to belong and feel significant. When they don’t feel belonging and realize that they matter, they react through different ways of misbehaviors. 

Do you often wonder why your child misbehaves even after disciplining and teaching so many times?

Well. Repeating yourself verbally many times is ineffective and is bad training. You need to get to the root of their behavior to understand the real causes. 

So, why do kids act out?

Kids act out when they have unmet needs. 

As said earlier, needs include physical and emotional. Physical needs include nutritious food, shelter, good sleep, clothing, etc. 

I think most of us are aware of their physical needs.

Emotional needs include love, attention, and freedom to choose and be.

When these needs are unmet, they do not know to say it directly. They express it through “misbehaviors”.

When they misbehave, what they actually could be saying is, “Mommy, I need more of your attention and love”. Or, it could be “Mommy, I am tired and I have sleep debt”. 

Kids who do not get attention through positive ways try to gain it through negative ways. Because for them, any attention is attention. 

So here are some common reasons why kids misbehave and how to decode their behavior.

1. KIDS MISBEHAVE WHEN THEY DON’T FEEL BELONGING

Kids need to feel that they belong in the family. They should know who their people are and where they belong. 

Belonging is essential to their being. It also plays a crucial role in the development of their personality. 

It’s when they feel that they belong, they thrive. They feel more freedom to express their opinions, frustrations and feel safe to be themselves. 

When they don’t feel belonging they feel lonely and might say things like, “I wish I were not born” or “I want to go away to a faraway place”, etc. 

If you have heard your kids saying such things, it could be a sign that they don’t feel included and that they are deprived of an adequate amount of your love and attention. 

When they don’t feel belonging, they may try to attach to other communities where they feel a sense of belonging and may also fall victim to different kinds of addictions.

It is their way of rebelling against the injustice they experience inside their hearts. 

So, how can parents make their children feel belonging?

WAYS TO PROVIDE A SENSE OF BELONGING IN CHILDREN:

  • Let them know how much you love them using positive words of affirmation and physical touch on a daily basis
  • Ask for their opinions on simple matters like what to make for dinner
  • Give them space to express their emotions
  • Let them know you have their back even when they make mistakes. Earn their trust by reacting to them positively when they make mistakes.
  • Listen to them without judgment and offer empathy. This is one of the important skills we can learn as parents as it helps kids to feel seen and heard. 
  • Spend at least 10 minutes with them every day to create connection time

2. THEY FEEL POWERLESS

Another reason kids misbehave is that they do not feel like they have power. All human beings need a certain sense of power in order to feel independent, powerful, and to develop a sense of individuality. 

When kids don’t get positive power they try to gain it through negative ways such as backtalking, tantrums, whining, etc. 

So what can we do when kids act out feeling powerless?

WAYS TO GIVE KIDS APPROPRIATE POWER:

  • Give them choices (that you can stand with)
  • Assign age-appropriate chores 
  • Never do for them what they can do on their own
  • If they show interest in doing something, let them do it no matter how messy their work is
  • Give space for failures and encourage to try again

Daughter upset with dad

3. KIDS ACT OUT WHEN THEIR PHYSICAL NEEDS ARE NOT MET

Physical needs like food, sleep, etc. have to be met properly for kids to stay sane. 

Most kids need more sleep than what they usually get. Lack of sleep can make them physically and mentally exhausted. It also makes them irritable and forgetful and they exhibit more impulsivity and stress-induced behaviors.

The same can be said about hunger. When they are hungry, they tend to be angrier, hyperactive, unfocused, or aggressive.  

Not only kids, but even us adults also do not have much tolerance when we are hungry, sleepy, or sick, do we?

So when they misbehave, observe if there are any unmet needs and make sure you meet them and move on. 

4. THEY HAVE HAD SUCCESS PURSUING NEGATIVE BEHAVIORS

Kids always know how to test your boundaries push the limits and get what they want.

If they have had success before using whining, repeating requests even after getting NO, and throwing temper tantrums, they will use it again. 

They will use these behaviors until you utter, “Fine, just one more time”, or the classic, “Do whatever you want”. 

We need to stop it before it becomes the norm. If it already is, don’t worry, you can train them the new ways. 

Make sure you stop rewarding the behavior by giving in. It might be hard in the beginning, but be consistent and once they get the idea that they are not getting the rewards, the behavior will stop automatically. 

Here, I like using Amy McCready’s technique, “Asked and answered”. When kids start nagging, you can say “Asked and answered”, which indicates that the discussion is over and you are not up for negotiation.

Use this method a few times and stick to it so that kids learn you mean business. 

kids nagging working mom - why do kids misbehave

5. YOU HAVE HIGH EXPECTATIONS

If you have high standards that are not age-appropriate, then it may be too much for kids to stay on their best behavior. 

If you expect your kids to share their toys all the time, or sit still for a long period of time, or never get angry or frustrated for not getting what they want (they need to express what they feel), you have high expectations. 

Kids lack social skills and emotional control.

Hence they can be seen hitting others and throwing toys when angry. Instead of punishing, which will only aggravate the behavior, teach them what to do instead, through role modeling healthy behavior. 

Kids are human too and they do feel all the emotions we feel.

Our goal here is not to have perfectly behaving kids all the time (which is impossible), but to eliminate root causes of misbehaviors and make sure their needs are met properly. 

6. YOU DONT IMPLEMENT CONSEQUENCES CONSISTENTLY

Consequences teach kids the effect of their behaviors. You need to be consistent with the consequences for kids to understand and not repeat their misbehaviors. 

Keep your word no matter how much they nag.

And also, make sure everyone at home is on the same boat when it comes to rules and implementing consequences.

If they can get what they want from Grandma, they are likely gonna find ways to get away with the limits. 

mom yelling at daughter - why do kids misbehave

7.THEY ARE BORED

Sometimes, the reason for misbehavior is simply boredom. They don’t know what to do with the extra time on their hands. So they irritate their sibling who is now angry and starts bothering you. 

It’s impossible to entertain kids all the time and it is not advisable to do that too as they need to learn to keep themselves entertained. 

Help kids make a list of creative and constructive things to do when they are bored. And when the misbehavior starts, if you suspect it’s boredom, remind them of the list. 

8. THEY HAVE TOO MUCH SCREEN TIME

Too much screen time has been proven to cause behavior problems. 

A study by researchers at the University of Alberta found that five-year-olds who spent two or more hours a day on a screen were five times more likely to be reported by their parents as exhibiting symptoms of ADHD like hyperactivity and inattentiveness when compared to their peers who were on screens for 30 minutes or less.

I have noticed this in my own children. When they have too much screen time in a day, they are more aggressive and impatient.

Spending too much time on screens decreases their tolerance and makes them impatient which leads to more anger. 

Restricting screen time and encouraging them to spend time doing more constructive activities will help in managing their behavior here. 

Getting kids outdoors will help in nurturing happier behavior in kids. 

kids watching videos on mobile - why do kids misbehave

9. THEY ARE BECOMING INDEPENDENT

As soon as they learn they are another individual, kids want to assert their independence in different ways. 

They want to put their power into use. So expecting kids to obey every word you say and when they don’t do that labeling it as not listening or misbehavior is not always healthy.  

They are developing critical thinking skills, so it would help to understand their way of thinking and helping them make choices. Help them to learn from their mistakes. 

If you do too much ordering and demanding, you can expect power struggles from kids, as they want to prove that they are independent too. 

When we try to understand their actions, choices and respect their independence, we will get much more cooperative behavior from them. When kids grow more independent, choose your battles wisely.

Let them have their choices if they seem harmless. Like, let them have their way with the dress they like to wear today or the food they want to eat.

So, when it comes to unnegotiable matters, they learn to respect your words too. When kids feel like they have some sort of control and independence throughout the day, they are much less likely to misbehave.

10. THEY DO NOT UNDERSTAND

In certain situations, we may feel like kids don’t obey our directions purposefully. 

But that’s not always the case. Sometimes, they don’t understand what we are saying.

And if we are giving directions for multiple tasks at a time, many kids have trouble following. 

It’s because their prefrontal cortex is not developed yet. So, be slow to label it “disobedience”. 

What I like to do is make them repeat my request.

And when they repeat, I can understand if they have heard only half of it. Or sometimes even if they heard me, they don’t know how to do it.

You get to know more about it only when you ask more questions to understand if they really grasped our request. So, make sure there are no communication gaps. 

Kids have minds of their own, and they may not come and clarify everything as they are impulsive and may do what they feel like. So make sure they understand your directions properly. 

If required, take their hand and show them how to do it too. 

confused boy - why do kids misbehave

11. THEY ARE IN BAD COMPANY

Kids usually imitate others’ behaviors well and hence misbehavior can be learned from others as well. 

Keep an eye on what shows your kids are watching, and who they are befriending. 

Control exposure of kids to the shows that teach improper behavior and promote aggression. 

Teach them healthy emotional release and politeness. Our own behaviors should be assessed.

If we have anger problems, kids will learn it too as anger is a learned behavior.

If we throw things when we are angry or spank kids to discipline them, they will imitate these behaviors and show that to others.

Related: 

12. YOU HAVE A NAGGING HABIT

If you think your kids are not listening to you after so many repetitions, it could be because you are repeating it. 

After a while, kids learn to tune us out if we are used to nagging and whining. As a result, kids continue with their misbehaviors. Read this post on why lecturing is ineffective and what the alternative effective communication methods are, for more information. 

mom lecturing daughter - why do kids misbehave

13. THEY FEEL UNAPPRECIATED

If we constantly find faults and criticize kids, they will start misbehaving.

We might feel like we scold kids because they misbehave, whereas the behavior might have started as a result of a lack of attention and appreciation they feel. It’s an endless cycle.

Kids need constant affirmation of parental love and encouragement for good behavior. 

When they don’t get positive attention, they will find ways to get negative attention. They don’t necessarily know it’s negative attention, as any attention is enough for them. 

So, encourage kids when they show good behavior, and criticize as little as possible.

Get down to their level and show genuine interest in them. They will start rewarding you with more good behavior as human beings generally do not want to let down the people they love. 

14. UNDERLYING MENTAL HEALTH PROBLEMS

Kids with ADHD, anxiety or depression may show misbehaviors. Kids with ADHD have trouble listening and follow instructions. Their behavior is more impulsive. 

Kids with anxiety may show avoidance of situations that make them nervous. They will not listen to you and behave differently which is in fact due to the fight, flight, freeze response triggered by anxiety. 

Depression makes kids lose the motivation to do any of their chores. If your kids exhibit any symptoms of mental health issues, consult your pediatrician and get treatment accordingly. 

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