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Why Does My Child Act This Way? 6 Tips to Survive Bad Behavior

Updated on August 15, 2013

Advice From the Parent With a Few Screws Loose

If you are like me, you probably gave some thought before reproducing. I know, accidents can happen, but even then, you probably did some kind of research on child rearing right?

I didn't give birth until I was 27, which seems to be the going rate these days. In my Pre-Kid Era, I spent my time as a teacher, enjoying spouse-hood, and being able to be an adult! Remember those days?

As a teacher, I dived into early childhood development and education and perfected my skills in the classroom. My "specialty" seemed to be the preschool age! Yes, I actually enjoyed the screams and chaos. I prided myself when a child had a behavior difficulty and I was able to handle it! Go me!

Then, I did what many adults do.....(enter scary music here....)... I began to think about having my OWN children! It was a spectacular idea! Why didn't I think of it earlier?!

Once we find out we are pregnant, we begin our journey into the unknown. We gather books and seek out advice. We ask endless questions to the doctors who secretly hate us. By the time the birth comes, the doctor usually is sprinting in the opposite direction.

Baby has arrived!

What?! You mean I can't sleep? You're hungry again? How on EARTH can you produce that much poop from such a small body?!

But oh, it is so worth it having them cuddling in your arms. And when they DO sleep, you can stare at them with your bloodshot eyes and your anxiety ridden brain and make sure they are breathing because you just KNOW something will go wrong!

The real craziness doesn't happen until after the child turns 2. More specifically, 2.5 years of age. What happens now is the development of their own personality. The need for control over things they have no control of. The emergence of the attitude.

As the screams and defiance begin, you start to panic thinking you have done something wrong as a parent. Did I not bond enough with him? Did I feed him the wrong foods? Should I have breastfed him longer? Did I hold him enough?

Fear and guilt aside, you dive back into the child development books and research the endless possibilities about what may be wrong with your child.

The pediatrician says that it is just a phase they go through and should pass by the time they are around 4. Whew! That was close.

So I can breathe again, right? Well, what happens when your child is almost 6 and still giving you the same hour long meltdowns over seemingly pointless things? What happens when he is still erupting into anger when he cannot get a perfect diamond drawn on a piece of paper? If we are lucky, we get to have an occasional day where no madness occurs.

So, what gives? What do we do as parents, when we have tried all there is to do with a child's behavior? Here are some tips for the least extreme cases to the most extreme:

1.) For younger children, such as those younger than 4, distraction is usually helpful when a child begins an anger fit. For example, they want another cookie and supper is on the table, a simple distraction, like, "Hey, look at the deer in the yard!" should be enough for the typically developing child to take his mind off of that cookie!

2.) Time Out or Quiet Time. Sometimes preschoolers (and adults too) need to have a time out or quiet time. When a child acts out and could begin escalating by the minute, removing him/her from the situation can help. It gets their breathing in line and can allow you time to work through the problem with them.

3.) Talk to them. If it is possible, once the child has calmed down or before he/she erupts into Godzilla, begin asking them questions, "What is the matter?" "How can we make this better?" "What else can we hit besides your brother?" It is imperative that children at this age begin to learn how to problem solve without hurting themselves or others. Help them use their words. Sometimes, especially children in school, will have to control themselves so much in the classroom, that they UNLEASH ALL HELL when they return home. In this case, recognize this and allow for active time, such as running around in the yard or exercising to music!

4.) Focus only on the good behaviors. This works wonders for children who are just wanting to please. Often, we are so sidetracked by the negative behaviors that we forget that they do good things too. During times of desperation, you may need to become overly praise-ful by drawing attention ONLY to the good things he/she may be doing. For example, "Good job on sleeping so well last night!" or "Well done on helping me throw away the trash!" or "I like how you have shared your crackers with your brother!" You get the point. You may start to sound like a broken record, but by golly, kids really just suck this right up. Another tip to go along with this is to create a behavior chart and reward each good behavior with a sticker. There can be so many stickers given to reach a goal, such as a special treat, or dollar store toy. Do not take away stickers though. The focus is on positive behavior only.

5.) Ignore negative attention-seeking behavior. I can honestly call myself experienced in this area since I do it so much. When my preschooler has launched into a full blown whining fit (yes, the annoying whining), I ignore it. He will honestly still follow me around for a good 1/2 hour or so and try his best to get my attention. Finally, he gives up. Note to parents: ignoring works really well and shows you are not giving into the behavior. However, if your ignoring ignites a fight where he begins to physically lash out at his brother, then you need to take action.

6.) When all else fails, you may need to speak with a professional. For my specific case, the pediatrician says that as long as he is controlling the behavior elsewhere, it says that he KNOWS how to control it. He just chooses to release the demons at home. Swell! So, professional help, such as a child counselor or behavioral specialist may be helpful. I'm not necessarily talking about having your child sit down with the professional, but you (and hopefully your partner) will be the ones to do it. This way, you may be able to gain a new perspective on what is going on with your child, and what you can do to make peace once again. Sometimes, further evaluation may be needed for underlying issues.

Overall, it is about being proactive parents. We can't be perfect and do not know the right answers all of the time, but we can do our best to work toward a more harmonious household. Children will always surprise us. But it is our duty to guide them and teach them to the best of our knowledge. When your knowledge falls short, do not be ashamed to seek help. If not, you may find yourself back to Square 1 with those bloodshot eyes and anxiety ridden brain. You (and your child) deserve better.

How do you handle your child's difficult behavior?

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    • vandynegl profile image

      vandynegl 4 years ago from Ohio Valley

      Thanks Cat! I have a sign above my kitchen window that says, "Great Mothers have sticky floors, dirty ovens, and happy kids." I spend more time trying to praise my kids and listen to them scream and throw fits than I do cleaning that mystery crap off of the floor. Oh well! Each day is a learning experience and one day, I will be closer to finding the "answer" to why my child acts the way he does! Thanks for reading, as always :)

    • Cantuhearmescream profile image

      Cat 4 years ago from New York


      Know why I love you? ... 'cause you're a real mommy and a real good mommy! :D I definitely laughed a few times and I related to all of it. You want to talk about ignorance; I remember toward the end of my pregnancy, rushing my son's arrival because I was sick of getting up 5 times a night to pee. Duh, when he got here, I had to get up 5 times a night to change a diaper, feed and burp a baby... I'd have rather just peed :D

      I don't care what anyone says, praising positive behaviors is extremely beneficial. Everyone wants acceptance and praise; it's sought and so it only makes sense they will repeat the behaviors that bring praise.

      That was only the tip of the iceberg, this is great!

      Up and all the blue buttons! :D


    • vandynegl profile image

      vandynegl 4 years ago from Ohio Valley

      Thank you Careermommy! I'm still learning each day though! We just now figured out that when our child does not "go" to the bathroom on a regular basis, his behavior is worse! It's a pattern!

    • Careermommy profile image

      Tirralan Watkins 4 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      These are great tips vandynegl. I love the idea of focusing on the positive aspects of our children. It's so easy to get frustrated and focus on the difficult behavior. Thank you for the much needed reminders.

    • vandynegl profile image

      vandynegl 5 years ago from Ohio Valley

      Hi peachpurple! Thanks! I agree with you, ignoring seems to be the best choice while working with my 5 year old. Unfortunately, his outbursts still last 45 minutes or so, but we are finding they are closer to an hour if we get mad too and intervene.

    • peachpurple profile image

      peachy 5 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      whenever my kid creates fussy behavior, screaming over small matters, i use distractions to clam him down. Sometimes it works but when is doesn't I simply ignore him. In the end he still quiets down on his own. Voted up and congrats for being nominated for hub of the day.

    • vandynegl profile image

      vandynegl 5 years ago from Ohio Valley

      Thanks jainismus! When it comes to child behavior, I could write a book!

    • jainismus profile image

      Mahaveer Sanglikar 5 years ago from Pune, India

      Thank you for sharing these great suggestions....

    • LongTimeMother profile image

      LongTimeMother 5 years ago from Australia

      Good luck with it. Keep us posted. :)

    • vandynegl profile image

      vandynegl 5 years ago from Ohio Valley

      Thanks LongTimeMother! I just read your article about your daughter too! Like I mentioned there, I plan to get an allergy test done. Sometimes, it may just be a "sensitivity" too, which isn't a full blown allergy. Either way, we can take the steps to get rid of the problem!

    • LongTimeMother profile image

      LongTimeMother 5 years ago from Australia

      It may have no relevance but, as I explained in my hub, we recently discovered my (now adult) daughter is allergic to unexpected foods including honey and potatoes. We grow organic potatoes and our honey is 100 percent pure, straight from the hive.

      I think the food diary is a very good idea. I wish I'd known to suspect foods when she was young. There were no visual symptoms, just behavioural ones.

      Lucky you're a nutritional consultant. You should be able to figure it out. :)

    • vandynegl profile image

      vandynegl 5 years ago from Ohio Valley

      Thank you dearmommy and LongTimeMother for your support and comments!

      LongTimeMother: Yes! I have considered in food sensitivities, as well as what I fed him BEFORE I became a nutrition consultant. He doesn't consume any food colorings, which I know can affect behavior (among other things!), and he consumes very little dairy, wheat, soy, etc. He is big on vegetables and fruits. We eat a lot of organic and home grown foods too. It is worth me keeping a food diary on him though to keep track of any connections. Thanks for your thoughts!

    • LongTimeMother profile image

      LongTimeMother 5 years ago from Australia

      ROFL. It is funny how motherhood changes a teacher. :)

      I have to query your pediatrician's advice. Might be worth considering whether or not your child could be allergic to one or more of the foods they eat. Most eating at that age occurs at home.

      I wrote a hub about my experience. You'll find it via my profile page. Might be worth considering.

      Nice hub. Voted up.

    • dearmommy profile image

      dearmommy 5 years ago

      I have a two and four and a half year old (and we just found out we have another on the way too), and I have had SO many moments like this with both of my kids. It is really great advice, and even better to know I am not alone!! :) Great writing and I will vote it up!!!