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Check the Mirror When Children Misbehave

Updated on April 3, 2013

Parents Grow Right Along With Their Children

Life is good for parents when their children are behaving. Severe parental stress is caused by a child's misbehavior or acting out. Most parents expect perfect behavior from their children while in public or at school, and these parents usually look to experts to explain why their children might fight with or disrespect siblings, classmates, teachers and the parents, themselves.

Experts and parenting books might not hold all the answers to a child's misbehavior or negative attitude. Sometimes, parents need only look in the mirror. Since each child goes through countless unique changes throughout the stages of growth and development, we parents need to grow and adapt right along with them.

What Are Children Seeking Through Their Behaviors?

Growth is painful.

Growth is scary.

Growth is messy.

Growth is sometimes angry.

Growth is beautiful.

Every parent knows the wonderful feeling of pride when their child is behaving beautifully in front of other adults. Comments of how well behaved a child is produce that parental glow.

Every parent also knows the sinking embarrassment when their child is misbehaving in public. Those looks, and mumbles make us feel a spotlight is cast on how successfully we are fulfilling our parental role.

Most acting out by children is a hint at what they need. If we, parents, simply react to the behavior with understandable anger and frustration, the root causes will never be discovered, and the difficult behavior is bound to continue or get worse.

If a sixth grader gets angry and defiant when shown his failing grades in math, even though he can do the problems in his head, and has demonstrated above-average knowledge of the subject in the past, punishment for poor performance and defiance is most likely not the way to correct the behavior. Calm questioning, active listening and communication with the teacher might reveal peer difficulties such as the child being bullied, or called a "Nerd" or "Try Hard". Imagine this parent simply punishing this child for poor grades and disrespectful defiance, and finding out years later, when the child becomes an adult, that he was bullied in math class, and therefore lost his drive for excellence and education. Parental guilt anyone?

There is a reason our children behave as they do. A parent's job is to discover that reason, and either maximize the positive, or redirect the negative. A mirror is needed when we, parents, might actually be contributing to the behavior.


There is an exhaustive list of reasons for a child's behavior, and puberty exacerbates them all. Barring mental illness or disability, a child is typically seeking attention, power, revenge or confidence when misbehaving. As parents who actively participate in the lives of our children, we are best able to understand them.

If attention and power are repeatedly taken away from children, they will actively seek and fixate on that which is withheld.

When both parents work outside the home, for example, and repeatedly demonstrate they just want to relax and not deal with issues in the evening, what message is a child clearly receiving about the priority her daily activities and difficulties have in the family? How may this child seek the attention she desires?

Alternatively, should a parent battle with a child over the way the dishwasher is loaded? As long as the dishes are reasonably stacked so that all are cleaned and nothing is broken, a power struggle is not really necessary.

A child seeking revenge or lacking in self-confidence is usually the result of their lack of attention and power in the home or elsewhere in their environment. Parents are best able to change these reasons for misbehavior. Personal courage is required, however.

That spotlight mentioned earlier need not be viewed as negative. It can be viewed as a litmus test for improvements needed in the dynamics of the family. If we, as parents, continue to learn and grow, our children have the best opportunity to do so as well. If we are willing to look in the mirror, take stock, and realize that the apple really does not fall far from the tree, we truly have the power to handle any behaviors our kids decide to display.

Karma will come back to us in the form of grandchildren, after all.


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    • MommyLoves profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Kathryn Johnson 

      5 years ago from Northern California

      Thank you, vandynegl, I'm glad the information helped a fellow parent! I, too, had to change some things about myself in order to help my kids change their behaviors. My biggest problem was my reaction due to my lack of patience. I had to take lots of deep breaths, and remind myself that no one was dead, so why react so over the top ?!

      I'm sure your son will start responding more positively the more you model the behaviors you want him to change.

      Thanks for the visit and comment!

    • vandynegl profile image


      5 years ago from Ohio Valley

      Good information! You are correct! Behaviors often mirror our own. My husband and I are currently dealing with our 5 year olds behavior. I often say that my son acts just like me, and I see him displaying some of the behavior that I used to exhibit. Now that I have changed my behavior, I am struggling to change his. I think his primary reason for his meltdowns is attention, but power is not too far behind. I am thinking that more choices for him will allow him to have more of a say in what he does. Thanks for the information!


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