Our Blog

Children and Misbehavior

Monday, August 9th, 2021

by Kristi Miller, MS, Certified Theraplay® Therapist


Does your child ignore requests, tantrum, hit, or disrespect you? Most parents experience misbehavior from their child throughout development.  However, chronic misbehavior may lead to family discord, parental stress, and bewilderment.  Parents may feel overwhelmed and frustrated. Low self-esteem, poor social skills, chronic anxiety, and insecurity may occur for the child.   If you and your child are discouraged due to frequent misbehavior, examine these triggers and interventions for possible ideas. Here are some questions parents can ask themselves when considering their child’s misbehavior.

  1. Are my expectations too high? Children grow and develop over time. Immature decisions and behaviors are common during childhood. Although deeply frustrating at times, you don't want to reprimand a child who is developmentally unable to function in a specific way. For example, spilling milk is a common immature mishap for young children. Scolding a child for this type of behavior is unhelpful and usually makes the child nervous and anxious.

  2. Has my child’s routine changed? Busy families experience schedule shifts for various reasons. However, children can react negatively if anxious or unsure about change. For example, having parents go through a divorce, moving to a new neighborhood, caregiver changes, or alterations to the typical daily schedule can create anxiety, anger, and confusion.

  3. Is there a feeling or experience that prompts negative behavior? Separating the behaviors from the underlying cause can assist problem resolution and comfort. For example, a child who sneaks into your bed each night is likely anxious or lonely. A  child resisting daycare may claim it’s boring with terrible snacks, when the real issue may be difficulty fitting into a peer group.

  4. Am I highly stressed? Parental stress is typical. It can be exhausting juggling numerous roles and activities. Chronic parental stress with minimal communication may result in an anxious, acting-out child. Children often sense problems but are poor interpreters.  Children usually benefit from developmental or age-appropriate explanations about various tensions in the family.  

Here are some interventions that may be helpful if your child is acting out significantly. 

  1. Parents are frequently unaware of typical developmental phases of childhood. Raising a child is challenging.  Do a little online research to find some useful charts on childhood development and what to expect at various ages.  You could also attend a parenting class or consult with someone you respect.

  2. Consider making a chart of daily routines and place it where your child can see it. You can use words or pictures to identify the tasks that occur throughout the day. Children thrive on routines. Sometimes a frequently changing daily schedule or involvement in too many activities can negatively affect behavior.  You might discover that the chart helps you as much as it helps your child!

  3. Provide positive reinforcement. Children who are frequently praised are likely to repeat positive behavior. Sticker and reward charts can also be beneficial. For example, a child having difficulty with bedtime routines may benefit from a sticker or reward chart. If the child completes all bedtime tasks successfully, they earn stickers or tokens that can be traded iin for a prize or activity the following day. Tailor a reward program to fit your child’s development, interests, and age. For example, a two-year-old needs an immediate reward, while some eight-year-olds can wait for several days or up to a week to obtain a prize. 

  4. Consider removing a privilege or toy for negative behavior. Grounding is often used with older children. Losing an item or a benefit can be effective if valued by the child and if you return it in a reasonable time frame.  A five-year-old who loses a toy for a week will likely have difficulty earning it back due to immature developmental abilities. One day is sufficient. Young children need short times of loss or they forget, lose interest, or become highly discouraged. Frequently “grounding” an older child for a week or two may also be disheartening. Avoid taking away a child’s security toy or blanket. The child’s loss of a comfort item is often excessively distressing.

Hopefully these ideas will help you feel more confident as a parent, and will help your child develop into a healthy individual.  If you want some professional help with the parenting challenges you face, or if you think your child could benefit from therapy, contact River Counseling Services and Sioux Falls Psychological Services where we meet you where you are, offering hope.  You may schedule an appointment with the Platte office at 605-337-3444, or meet with one of our Sioux Falls Psychological Services therapists from your own computer or smartphone.  To schedule an appointment please call 605-334-2696.