We all have different types of struggles when dealing with our kids’ bad behavior. But here’s the thing – what we often refer to as “misbehavior” is often normal behavior children use to express a specific need.
All specialists agree that it is impossible to effectively understand and manage your child’s behavior if you don’t know why he or she misbehaves. More and more child psychologists are saying that children’s behavior is simply an expression of big emotions they haven’t learned to deal with yet. That’s why an anxious or angry child is likely to throw a tantrum and “misbehave”, which is actually an attempt to deal with his emotions.
Your child’s behavior can also be explained by the absence of a framework. If she is unsure of what is expected of her or receives conflicting information or feedback, she is likely to portray unacceptable behavior. Communicating effectively about what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior goes a long way in managing your child’s behavior.
According to Jane Nelsen, any parent who wants to put an end to difficult behavior in children should know that kids don’t always know what they need. As a result, there will always be occasions when your child will struggle to fill his needs. In other words, bad behavior happens because children are not always aware of the behavior that will help them meet their needs. If you think about it, this makes perfect sense:
- Your daughter won’t tell you she needs to reconnect with you, instead, she’s likely to act clingy or whine in an attempt to get your attention.
- Your son won’t necessarily tell you he needs more autonomy. He’ll be all over the place and touch (and possibly) break things which will drive you up the wall.
- Your daughter won’t tell you she doesn’t understand what her assignment is about – she’ll just keep putting her homework off until you pester her.
Although we tend to be angered by our children’s behavior, much of that behavior is normal. In fact, the opposite is true: you should be worried if your child is well behaved all the time. Young children are not supposed to be “well behaved”.
While it’s true that children’s behavior can be overwhelming and capable of driving any parent crazy, you need to stop worrying about normal “misbehavior” in your child.
Here are 5 normal child behaviors and tips to help you deal with them more calmly
“Laziness” or lack of motivation
Who has never had to deal with a “lazy” or demotivated child? The child who must be forced to do schoolwork… the child who must be forced to practice his music lessons… the child who must be forced to complete the activity he started weeks ago?
Laziness or lack of motivation is normal behavior in children and adults alike. It is often sparked by a lack of interest in the activities your child is expected to undertake and can also stem from your child’s physical condition (hunger, fatigue, insufficient sleep, and so on).
What you can do if your child is suffering from low motivation
Pay attention to her interests. The more the activities proposed are in line with her interests, the more she will be motivated to undertake and complete given tasks/activities. But choosing activities in line with one’s interests is not about allowing your child to ignore the things she doesn’t like. It’s about finding ways to make those activities more interesting for her. For instance, if she hates her swimming lessons but is very social, having her in the same group as a friend could help motivate her.
Ensuring that your child participates in making the decisions that concern her is a great way to get her motivated to participate in and finish tasks. For example, you can let her be the one to decide when to do her homework and let her participate in determining the consequences if her homework doesn’t get done.
Relax. Stressing about your child’s lack of motivation won’t change much. Pressuring him to be “more motivated” won’t get you the results you want. Allowing your child more liberty to make decisions within a framework can help prevent you having to nag him. For instance, if you let him choose when to do his homework, you can set a time by which the homework must be done “You choose whenever you want to do your homework but it must be done by 6p.m. What do we do if it’s not done by 6?”
Another option can be by transforming the things your child likes to do into privileges (instead of rights). For instance, you can say something like “You can watch TV/Play your videogame for one hour as long your homework is done”.
Setting a framework makes it easier for your child to understand what is expected of him and to follow through because he participated in the decision-making phase.
Why are kids so manipulative? Because it is a way through which to get what they want. Common manipulative behavior includes whining, crying, and lying. While it can be draining to deal with a manipulative child, manipulation is very common behavior in children.
How to deal with a manipulating child
The thing with manipulation is that once you give in, it can be difficult to break the cycle of manipulation. Clearly explaining to your child why she cannot have a candy bar ONCE then avoiding further discussion can help you put an end to manipulative behavior. Do not let her draw you into an argument – you’ll tire out way faster than she will!
Explaining to your child what is expected of her beforehand can also help reduce manipulation. For instance, before going shopping, you can say something like: “We’re going to the shops to buy … We’re not going to buy anything that’s not on the list”. Positive reinforcement can also help in such a situation “I want you to stay next to me the entire time we’re in the supermarket. If you do, you can have a piece of candy once we get back to the house”
It seems that kids around the world have mastered the art of ignoring instructions. No matter how many times you repeat a request, your child can completely ignore your existence and continue doing exactly what he was doing before you spoke. The good news is that there are relatively easy ways to grab his attention when he’s not listening.
First, move closer. The further away you are, the higher the chances that your requests will go unheeded. Make eye contact. Get on your child’s level. Connect, then make your request.
My partner always tells me it’s impossible to talk to me when I’m watching something I like. Like most people, I find it difficult to concentrate on “two voices” at the same time. Kids are no different. Any request made to your kid when he’s engrossed in his favorite program or video game is likely to be ignored, and that’s actually normal behavior. What you can do is prepare your child for whatever it is you want him to do. If he’s supposed to set the table, make the request 10 minutes earlier. And making the request doesn’t mean shouting across the room. Connect, then make your request. Remind him again 5 minutes later. Giving your child time to digest the information prepares him to make the shift to a different activity.
Restlessness and boredom in kids is a very common phenomenon. Problem is we always feel like we somehow have to “fix” our kids’ boredom. There is now evidence that intervening every time your child claims to be bored can curb his creativity. Researchers have found that you don’t have to feel guilty about consistently entertaining your child. They have found that encouraging him to deal with his boredom by himself can help make him a better decision-maker, enhance his creativity skills, and encourage him to discover where his real interests lie.
That said, simply “leaving kids to themselves” is not always beneficial. Researchers now agree that while your child needs his “stand and stare time”, he benefits more from an unstructured but stimulating environment. They have found that not all children can manage unstructured time, and that most kids require some form of structure. This means that you need to provide some form of guidance to your child.
One way you could do this is by brainstorming together ideas of all the activities he can do then providing the materials and environment he would need to do those activities. Once this is done, you can let him choose what to do and when.
I’m yet to meet a parent whose child has never had tantrums. Mild and not-so-mild tantrums are all common child behavior. They are often driven by your child’s inability to fulfil his needs. These needs could be emotional – for instance, a child who doesn’t know how to respond to his feelings of anxiety is likely to act out when he feels anxious. But your child’s behavior is not dictated by emotions alone. Other factors such as nutrition, fatigue, lack of sleep, and behavioral or sensory issues can also affect how your child reacts to different situations. Being aware of the factors that affect children’s behavior is an important step toward understanding what drives his behavior.
Are you struggling with your child’s behavior? Join my Free Making Discipline Work ECourse to determine an effective strategy to manage discipline issues more effectively.