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  • misbehaving child

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    When our cute, easy baby begins to transform into a demanding toddler with his own mind, we are caught off-guard and at a loss about how to handle the change.

    As parents, we tend to instinctively react based on how we feel about our little one’s actions. When our preschooler pushes his baby brother, we yell in fright and chide him to try to make him understand that he’s not supposed to hit anyone. When our curious toddler continuously tries to see what will happen when he touches the spinning electric fan blades, we roar in fear and frustration and perhaps spank him so he will remember not to do it again.

    When we allow ourselves to lose control, we resort to whatever tools we have in our parenting arsenal in order to stop a behavior and hopefully teach a lesson. These might include spanking, shouting, and ultimately shaming our children. This is especially true if we got spanked and shouted at as children and we think, “I turned out fine anyway.”

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    What should we do? 

    The first step is to change our mindset. Instead of thinking that our children are misbehaving to spite us or just because they are being naughty, we have to look at our children and try to determine what is going on behind their behavior.

    According to parenting educator and author Jane Nelsen Ed. D., “We are so used to trying to motivate children to do better through punishment, lectures, and other forms of blame, shame, and pain.”

    However, research has shown that physical forms of discipline, such as spanking, can cause mental health problems in the future. The study “Spanking and Child Development Across the First Decade of Life,” published in the journal Pediatrics, followed children ages 3 and 5 and tracked their development until age 9. The results showed that spanking negatively affects children’s behavior and intellectual development.

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    Reasons for misbehavior

    Psychologist Alfred Adler, a contemporary of Sigmund Freud, believed that people’s actions are guided by their goals, primary of which is to belong and to be significant to others. Children, however, because of their lack of social skills and experience, are unable to express this need to belong in a socially acceptable manner.

    As the grown-ups in the parent-child relationship, we should focus on the underlying reason of a behavior in order to think of a positive way to help our children. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons why children misbehave.

    1. Immaturity

    Preschoolers and younger kids still have no control over their impulses and have a hard time determining what is right and wrong. Their misbehavior may be chalked up to the fact that they are just acting their age.

    Young children may also be inflexible and will have a difficult time adjusting to changes, leading to tantrums. Their inability to express their thoughts well is also a factor in their feelings of frustration; they misbehave as an attempt to be understood.

    What to do: Be calm instead of reacting angrily to allow you to identify the underlying reason for his misbehavior. Remember that your child is not yet developmentally mature.

    2. Curiosity

    Little kids are a curious lot. Since everything for them is new or almost new, they are eager to explore and know more about how things work and how to go along with others. A little understanding of this will go a long way in accepting their actions for what they are – acts of curiosity.

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    A common example of this is the way that little ones investigate figurines, stoves, and electric sockets. And even though they’ve already been told not to do it, they will still keep on doing it.

    What to do: Say what you want your child to do, instead of the negative “No!” or “Don’t do that!” Be specific with what you want your child to do if you want him to stop doing something: “Keep your hands together” or “Step back from the stove” just might work.

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    3. Inexperience with handling feelings

    Children haven’t had a lot of experience about the world, and when faced with things that they can’t do or not allowed to do, frustration and tantrum set in. Whining and meltdowns can really get to the best of us, but only if we allow it to get to us.

    What to do: Give him the tools to master his emotions; it can be a keyword that you will remind him of what you told him, a breathe-in-and-out tip for when he’s mad, or simply walk him through what he’s feeling to help him calm down. Remember that your child probably doesn’t know or hasn’t yet mastered the art of expressing himself without being cantankerous.

    4. Physical needs

    A hungry child is an angry child, right? Check for the possible reason of a misbehavior: boredom, hunger, tiredness, or sleepiness. 

    What to do: Sometimes, children forget – or can’t say – that they’re hungry or tired or sleepy. So check the time and your child’s activity level. The crankiness might just be because of things that can be easily solved.


    5. They want to assert their independence

    Children are thrilled when they are able to do things for the first time. They want to be in control of themselves: they can walk fast, so they will walk to wherever they want to go, they’ve discovered that they have a loud voice, so they will scream their head off.

    What to do: Respect your child’s need for independence… and accept that he won’t be a baby forever! Even if it will take you much longer to do something because he is “helping” you, the trust that you give him and the opportunity to contribute will no doubt empower him and lessen his frustrations.

    Facing our children’s misbehavior is not an easy task. We need to put ourselves in their shoes, think of what they trying to tell us with their actions, and put into words what we think they are feeling or getting at. It is important to keep our cool and deal with things in a matter-of-fact way and not react instinctively. In “controlling” our children’s misbehavior, what we first need to control is ourselves.


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