By Molly Meyers, MA, program manager of the Advocating Success for Kids Program, and Anna Chaves McDonald, PhD, psychologist in the Developmental Medicine Center at Children's Hospital Boston.
A child's frequent misbehavior can be frustrating, especially when parents don't know why it's happening. The good news is that there are almost always reasons for a child's misbehavior, which means that most of the time parents can do something about it.
Most misbehavior is guided by an incentive or goal—in other words, the child wants to attain or avoid something. And while the behavior is inappropriate, the incentive is usually appropriate. For example, your child may be seeking your attention, and due to your busy schedule, the only way she knows how to achieve this is through negative behaviors. To her, your angry reaction is better than no reaction.
If you think this may be the cause in your child's situation, it's important to catch her while she is being good, and provide positive attention and praise during these moments. Reinforcing her good behavior will make her more likely to behave well. Conversely, don't reinforce her poor behaviors by paying them too much attention, unless she is creating an unsafe situation.
Other situations could include:
Your child may have tantrums in the morning as you are about to bring him to daycare. Once you establish the trend in his behavior (that it's occurring prior to leaving the house to go to daycare), you can consider what your child may be avoiding. For example, is he afraid of some situation at daycare or school? Speak with his teachers or daycare workers to see if they notice any perplexing behaviors that could be clues as to why your child may not want to go there (for example, poor peer relations, learning or communication difficulties, mental health or health issues, and so on).
Your child's difficult behavior may be due to her desire to assert herself and promote her independence. For example, she may be argumentative when asked to do something. This can be a positive attribute, as it means your child feels she is important and that her views should be valued. She also may be demonstrating that she has a secure relationship with her caregiver, and is not afraid to speak up, which can also be a good thing. Obviously, overstepping social boundaries with extreme rudeness or obstinacy should be curtailed.
These broad examples may help parents begin to look at their child's behavior from a different perspective, and thus begin to devise more successful interventions.
If your child's negative behaviors don't appear to be based on any ulterior motive and/or if you are having a difficult time managing your child, it's important to consult your child's pediatrician and to consider having her evaluated by a specialist who can look into any other possible causes that may be beyond anyone's control.
|Strategies for handling your child's misbehavior
Establish clear and concise rules
They can be reiterated in a picture chart that can be hung in your home in a highly traveled location, such as on the refrigerator or on the child's bedroom door. This chart should explain rules, as well as consequences for breaking those rules, and should be followed consistently.
- Create a star chart
To illustrate good behavior that your child can be proud of, draw or write the desired behavior or action (such as cleaning his room) followed by various columns. At the end of each day/week, place a star in the columns next to the activities your child accomplished. Tally the stars and provide rewards for him.
If you find yourself angry or frustrated with your child, take a deep breath, count to 20, or give yourself five minutes away from your child to cool down before you respond.
Never strike your child in anger
This teaches your child that aggression is okay, and he may then resort to aggression with peers, which will lead to more frustration.
Words can hurt more than physical punishment, and can cause more long-term damage. Do not yell at or insult your child. If she breaks a rule, tell her what she did wrong and why it makes you angry. Tell her you are angry at what she did, not at who she is.
Give time outs
If your young child engages in negative behavior you may use time outs. A time out should never exceed your child's age (for example, a 4-year-old's time out should not exceed four minutes). Be sure your child understands why he is in time out. Children age 10 and older generally benefit more from discussion or removal of privileges, than from time out.