Category: Parenting

Why Children Misbehave: 8 Reasons and 8 Solutions

One of the most common expressions parents can be heard saying is, “I don’t understand why he’s/she’s doing that”.  There are eight, very common reasons why children misbehave. It is extremely useful for parents to know these because if they can pinpoint the root cause of the misbehavior, they can be more successful at reducing it.


Listed here are the eight most common reasons why children misbehave and a solution to help reduce or eliminate the problem:


1) They want to test whether caregivers will enforce rules.


Children’s main job is to figure out how their complex world works.  In order to master the things they need to at each developmental level they will test their parents.  They are literally trying to see where the boundaries are, or, if they exist at all.  Although testing is frustrating for parents they should know that it is normal and that this is their chance to really make a difference in their child’s life. How?  By setting boundaries and limits and consistently following through on them.  This way, their children will adopt positive values and gain self-esteem


2) They experience different sets of expectations between school and home.


Consistency is hugely important in making a child feel safe and secure and able to have a comfortable understanding of the world and how it works.  If they are receiving mixed messages from home and school they will feel uneasy inside and express this through more testing than normal and will feel an inner sense of stress.


The best thing a parent can do is learn a simple method to discipline and then have a conversation with their child’s teacher.  During this conversation, the parents should explain their method and ask how the teacher handles situations.  The goal is to try and use some of the same language at both the school and at home.  With a consistent, clear message, children will rise to the expectation and be happier in the process.


3) They do not understand the rules, or are held to expectations that are beyond their developmental levels.


Sometimes, parent expectations go beyond their child’s abilities. Discipline and guidance strategies should always take into account the child’s developmental level. For example, it would be unreasonable to tell a 2 year old to clean up his room and expect that he will finish the job. At this age, children need a lot of support and guidance to do a job like this. Reading books about what children can do at each age is helpful with this problem so that parents can know what is developmentally appropriate for them to expect of their child.


4) They want to assert themselves and their independence.


Children begin to show their desire for more independence at around age two. They start to want control over certain areas of their life so that they can feel capable and independent.  It doesn’t take long for children to identify the areas they CAN control, much to the chagrin of parents. Situations like eating, sleeping, brushing teeth, and dressing are great examples of times when children recognize their power to get you upset and therefore make them feel in control.


What is the solution? Give them lots of choice in their daily life so that they feel in control of their life in other, more positive ways.  As well, it is key to learn a simple, loving method to discipline so that misbehaviors are taken care of easily, without any emotion required.  Without emotion, there is no reason for the child to want to rebel in order to gain control.


5) They feel ill, bored, hungry or sleepy.


When children’s basic needs aren’t met regularly each day they are always more likely to misbehave, cry, throw a tantrum, etc. The solution to this is simple: have a routine where the child eats, has individual play time, parent and child play or interaction time and sleeps.


6) They lack accurate information and prior experience.


When children do something such as go to cross a road for the first time, they do not know that they are supposed to look both ways, so we all know that we must explain to them to look left and look right, etc.  However, the same technique needs to be applied to discipline situations.  Children will repeat a behavior over and over until they have accurate information as to what they should be doing instead and prior experience of the consequence if they continue the behavior.


Using clear, concise language stating what they “need” to be doing rather than what they “shouldn’t” be doing is extremely important.  Better to say, “Carry this carefully”, rather than, “Don’t drop this”. In other words, give them something to use as prior knowledge for next time.


7) They have been previously “rewarded” for their misbehavior with adult attention.


No parent would ever think of purposefully rewarding bad behavior, but it subtly happens quite often.


Remember, negative attention is still attention so if they misbehave and their parent either yells or spanks, they have just been rewarded. If the child whines, cries or throws a tantrum and mom or dad eventually gives in to make them become quiet, they have just been rewarded. The solution?  Say what you expect without emotion and then follow through consistently if they continue the negative behavior.  The two keys here are: no emotion and little talking.


8) They copy the actions of their parents.


The best teacher of how to misbehave or act and speak inappropriately is by watching mom or dad misbehave or act and speak inappropriately.  Remember, what children see and experience in the home is what their normal is.  So, if they see mom and dad yelling, they will yell.  If they get spanked, they will likely use hitting to express their anger or frustration.  If they hear, “What?” instead of “Pardon?” that is what they will use. How can we expect any different?


Although not always simple, parents need to look at parenting as a life lesson in personal growth.  I always say that children can make open and willing parents into the best human beings in the world because they have the opportunity to practice being their best selves every single day of the year.  Looking at parenting this way makes it easier to catch oneself more often and start demonstrating good behavior by modeling it.

Transition Tips…From Summer Fun to School Excitement!

The dog days of summer are upon us, popsicles in hand, sprinklers spinning, and not a care in the world for most school-aged children; but in a few short weeks…move over summer, here comes the school year!


The beginning of the school year marks the time when parents and students alike get back in step with schedules, organizing their home and getting off on the right foot for the entire year. Most parents get excited, remembering their childhood memories and “butterflies” of getting ready for school, as they get everything pulled together from classroom lists to new lunch goodies for their children. Children are eager and ready to start school and adjust to the change in schedule and pace, as they check their “to-do” and supply lists with their parents.


To help ease the transition from summertime fun to school time excitement, here are a few tips and suggestions to keep in mind to promote a favorable experience for parents and children:


Make a list of healthy-living goals for the entire family for the school year and post them in a visible location. This creates accountability. Goals could include allotting at least 30 minutes to reading before bed or practicing spelling words while walking before or after dinner.


Start every day right with a healthy breakfast such as oatmeal, eggs or fruit. Breakfast is the meal that keeps you going all day.


Avoid the morning rush. Develop a smooth morning routine and follow it religiously to avoid tardiness and stress. Happy mornings equal happy students.


Adults and children should get at least eight hours of sleep each night. Make bedtime more enjoyable for everyone by establishing a routine of bath-time followed by reading-time and instill good sleeping and reading habits by following this routine as much as possible.


Stay organized, create structure and “places” for everything — and within reach — so your child knows where to find things and can rely on them being there.


Regularly have your child’s eyes examined. Twenty-five percent of children struggle with vision problems that could impact learning. Eighty percent of everything a child learns in his first 12 years comes the eyes. If corrective lenses are needed, select lighter, stronger and safer lenses such as Airwear.


Help your child be proactive with homework and studying. Work on your own projects alongside your child to model work behavior and to show support.


Pack smart, healthy and well-balanced lunches that include fiber-rich fruits, veggies with healthy dipping sauces and water in reusable water bottles. Coordinate a trip to your local vegetable farm or farmer’s market, giving your kids money and full control of lunch-box ingredients. On packaged foods, encourage kids to read labels to be mindful of what’s going into their bodies.


Take an active role in your child’s learning and development by volunteering at school, coaching after-school activities or organizing active, educational gatherings. Keep the spirit of the activity positive and applaud each child for his/her own contributions. When home, hang your child’s work proudly for the entire family to see.


When your child succeeds, enthusiastically share the newswith family members, letting her know your excitement for her achievements and hard work.


Feed the imagination by creating balance between scheduled and non-scheduled, spontaneous activities. Kids watch everything you do; so if you’re over-scheduled and over-worked, they’ll emulate that behavior. Learn to relax so your kids can, too.


Teach your children the value of uninterrupted, unpowered alone time. This includes reading, napping, playing outside, climbing trees — anything that exercises the mind, body and soul and doesn’t include vegging out in front of the TV or game station.

You’re a Good Mom!

By Gary M. Unruh, MSW LCSW


You’re a good mom. How do I know? I’ve worked with more than 2,500 families in my 40 years as a child and family therapist, and I’ve seen the uncertainty on so many mothers’ faces. They all wonder if they’re doing enough, being there enough, and loving enough. They’re not concerned about the crazy hours, the lack of pay, or the meager amount of appreciation. They just want to know they’re doing right by their kids. In my opinion, moms are truly amazing, and it’s high time we give them some high fives for what they’re doing right. Here are my “high fives to moms” list. (If you see yourself doing a lot of these things, count yourself in the Good Mom’s Club.)


1. Moms are on call 25/8. Moms always squeeze in an extra hour a day and an extra day a week, yet there’s always more to do. Shopper, health and mental care provider, nutritionist, educator, sports specialist, chauffeur, cook and bottle washer, spiritual counselor, bodyguard—and that’s just a part of the workload. And in between all of these things, a mom must be a calm, productive employee, mother, and wife.


2. Moms display courageous endurance. Iron Man athletes have nothing on moms. The last few months of pregnancy, giving birth to a baby, and the unbelievable endurance needed during the first month of a baby’s life require every bit of strength a woman possesses. I vote for a new Olympic sport: parenting—birth through the first month. Or better yet, the “Parental Order of the Red Heart” medal.


3. Moms are nurturers extraordinaire. Every time a kid gets hurt (physically or emotionally), Mom is there to offer a hug, a kind smile, and comforting words. And it doesn’t matter whether Mom’s super busy, tired, or feeling like a failure, she’s always willing to offer warm attention. Priceless!


4. Moms serve as educators and activities specialists. Moms have got to be ready after a hard day at work to be tutors (even if you don’t know “new” math), police officers (“Spelling—now”), and supervisors of missing homework. Then they kick in their time management expertise to fit in swim practice, piano lessons, play dates, field trips, and weekend soccer games. Oh! Can’t forget a mom’s cheerleading skills—no matter how her day went or how good (or not so good) her kid is at something.


5. Moms are kid protectors. “Don’t mess with my kid” is Mom’s specialty. She deals with the real, scary problem of predators as well as the everyday stuff—a coach who doesn’t see her kid reallycould be the next Carmelo Anthony, the teacher who’s way too strict, and the playground bully. Keep your dukes up, Mom; you never know what’s coming next.


Moms, you’re doing so many things right. Focus on the positive and set aside the negative. You’re a good mom!

Mom of The Odd Boy Out

Today I volunteered at Payton’s school. It’s teacher appreciation week, so moms are needed to take the kids to the cafeteria so teachers can have a duty-free lunch. Since I’m one of the few moms who work part-time instead of full-time, I got the call.


I’ve been told by his teacher teacher of how he acts during lunch. How he doesn’t interact with the other kids during this usual social highlight of a school day. How he seems to withdraw into his own world and doesn’t really carry on conversations with the kids or act like he even cares to be there. I was aware that was part of his odd behaviors.


But hearing it and seeing it are two different things…


Today I saw for myself that in a cafeteria full of peers Payton withdraws to another place and seems to be all alone in a room full of people. After 15 minutes in there and 3 more classes make their way in, the din of voices rises and I see him pull at his bangs and rub his forehead — a sign I know means the noise of it all is beginning to hurt his head. As I watch from the other table, as I’m peeling an orange and cleaning up spilled milk, I know he is struggling to handle it all and keep it together.


Right then and there I wanted to cry because I see how the simple act of eating lunch at school is different for him. That it isn’t a happy, social event where you cut up a bit and play with your friend. It’s not like it was for me and the vast majority of other kids. Instead it means he withdraws in order to handle the physical pain in his ears and head, and that he has probably had to do this every day, 5 days a week, for the last 9 months.


My heart breaks for my odd boy out.


You’d think I would get use to this — being mom to the odd boy out. It’s always been that way, and I’ve been that mom for 6.5 years now. But I’m not use to it. I talk a good talk by voicing the positives of his unique/odd/whatever you want to call it behavior. But walking the walk is much, much harder.


I feel like I’m in the midst of chaos right now and I don’t know what to think. I’m leaving the mental safety of blaming myself; a place where his behavior was my fault, but it was safe because I could change what I did, so it’s really me and not him.


Now that road is behind me and I’m on a dirt road where the doctor cannot tell me whether my child is autistic or highly gifted. Yesterday I’m told that their neurologist would likely diagnosis him as autistic but….BUT.


That is an official, medical BUT.


Payton seems to be falling into a gray area of uncertainty. It could be that instead of autistic, he is highly gifted and the social/emotional problems we see are actually a common thing in highly gifted people.


It seems that Payton continues his pattern of leaving everyone scratching their head in wonder by not fitting into any one category. His doctor tells us that we’re in a unique, and not very easy position of having to decide which way we should proceed….down the road of probable autistic diagnosis or the road of possible highly-gifted mind.


Suddenly, the weight of parenthood is fully upon my shoulders like it has never been before. On the outside I’m sure it seems like an easy answer. What parent wants their child to be autistic? And what parent wouldn’t want their child to have a gifted mind? But the weight of the responsibility is there despite outside appearance.


Whichever path we choose, Payton has no choice but to follow us because he is a child and we have to decide this for him.


What if we decide wrong? What if we decide to take the gifted route and he begins to slide instead of thrive because he isn’t getting any type of therapy or accommodations at school? What about the years of early intervention we’ve already missed and could continue to miss in these early education years? What if his odd behaviors are not accepted by others but a diagnosis would bring acceptance and understanding to him? How can we ignore the obvious characteristics of autism that fit our son? Is this denial? Or faith?


Then there is the other path.


What if we decide to have him diagnosed and his world is now shaped by a developmental disability and all along his life could have been shaped as gifted instead? What if he is gifted and we can shape the way others perceive him in a positive way instead? What if we can’t shape people’s perceptions? What would happen to his self-esteem, his belief in himself to know he has this disorder? Especially if he were to find out we could have went a different way.


The decision can’t be made lightly. I have no way of knowing the long-term effects of either path. And I have no way of knowing whether I will get this right and be the person it is going to take raise this child well.


We’re at a crossroad where I am overwhelmed with the responsibility of how I will shape this other life. And not just any other life but the life of a person who I love beyond all things, and who innately trusts me with his life. I cannot afford to make a mistake.


As I stood in that cafeteria, I found myself wishing he were average. I wished he were less than he is and that is wrong. It isn’t fair to Payton.


What I really want is what all moms want….for their child to be happy and accepted for who they are. But I’m defining happiness and acceptance from my very average and typical mind and what it means to me. What does it for mean for him?


I’m left wishing I could get inside his mind and just understand. To know that despite how my very average mind sees it, that he is happy and feels accepted by those around him. That he doesn’t feel like the odd boy out.


So not only am I at this crossroad of decision, I am also forced to redefine what happiness, acceptance, friendship, and normal means. I obviously can’t continue to judge it by societal standards regardless of which road we take.


I’ve never felt less grounded in my life. I feel like I’ve been taken from my regular place of existence and shoved into a world I don’t know and I don’t even know which way to go for answers.


I wonder if that is how Payton feels a lot of the time too.


It seems as if my life as mom of the odd boy out will always be a dirt road to somewhere unchartered and new.

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