Children's behavior

January 26, 2009

by Jenni Sebora

Sometimes, as parents, it seems we are continuously dealing with our children’s behavior, and we may be constantly saying “no.” What we see as misbehavior in our children are really normal and healthy signs of psychological growth, but sometimes their behavior certainly can seem very negative to us.

Actually, we can think of children’s misbehavior as opportunities for them to learn, and for us to guide them in the process. Their misbehavior can be viewed as an inappropriate response to meet a very appropriate need.

Children are certainly different from us in many ways. Children have less understanding of how things work, less self-control, and less sense of right and wrong. What we expect of them must be dependent on their capabilities. Our expectations for their behavior must be realistic for their age and development.

Babies do not have a sense of right and wrong. They cannot be expected to follow our verbal directions. We should ignore inappropriate behavior, and redirect and reinforce positive behavior. We must meet their emotional and physical needs. When they are hungry, we feed them. When they cry, we are there for them and respond to their needs.

Toddlers also have no sense of right and wrong. They may want to be good, but don’t know how and have to be taught positively how. They get mad and frustrated easily, and their sense of independence and their own being is forming. They want to do it all by themselves. Distraction and redirection (substituting with positive alternative activities) are appropriate techniques. Avoid power struggles.

As children develop into preschoolers (3- to 5-year-olds), they develop more self-control and are more able to connect actions to consequences. Their inner sense of right and wrong is certainly developing. They want to know “why,” enjoy make-believe, and learn by doing.

They also continue that desire to want to do things by themselves, and especially as they reach the age of 5, they can do more and more things by themselves.

Questions we should ask ourselves as parents:

• Am I expecting too much for my child’s age?

• Do I have a tendency to scream or yell?

• Do I always say ‘no’?

• Am I too strict?

• Are there major changes going on in our home or lives?

• Am I under a lot of stress?

• Do I encourage and praise my child when their behavior is positive?

• Do I give my child choices?

• Do I listen to my child?

Using positive guidance and reinforcement is important. We are our children’s teachers in every aspect. We must teach our children about what is right and wrong.

We want our children to eventually have self-control. We have to guide them and teach them in this process. We must use positive guidance.

We need to praise the behavior that we want to encourage, and reinforce appropriate behavior when it is happening.

Know about the stages children go through, learn about how they grow. Read. Talk with other parents, and take Community Education classes.

As our children develop into toddlers and preschoolers, and certainly beyond, we need to make sure our children understand our rules and expectations.

Look for the reason for their behavior. Are they tired, hungry, scared, or nervous about something?

Listen to your children.

Spend time with your children. Give each child individual attention each day.

Feelings are normal. We need to recognize and accept our children’s feelings and allow them to express their feelings. Help your children label the feelings and model constructive ways to deal with and express them. Anger is a normal feeling; we just have to model and teach our children appropriate ways to deal with it.

Limit the “no’s.” Our children may also use the word “no” often because they hear it from us so often. By noticing our children’s appropriate behavior and positively responding to it, we have more opportunities to say “yes.” So when they do hear the word “no” from us, it will be more meaningful.

Sometimes we can substitute the word, “no,” with a “yes,” just in how we word our feedback. They may ask us if we can play with them, but we are cooking dinner. We can respond with, “Yes, we can play a game when we are done with dinner.”

At all ages, our children need to know that they are loved beyond their actions (we may not like what they did, but we love them as human beings). They need to know that they have a safe, loving home environment. They need to know that they are capable people, and we need to let them know that they are.


Bellpower Center for Prevention of Child Abuse

“How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk,” by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish