5 reasons children misbehave & what you can do

Every parent reaches their wits’ end when dealing with children’s misbehaviour. Just remember that your child isn’t "out to get you;" there are often very explainable and preventable reasons for misbehaviour.

Common reasons for misbehaviour

 Your child’s basic needs aren’t being met

He is tired, cranky or hungry, which magnifies all his emotions and makes little problems difficult to handle.

What you can do: make sure your child is fed and rested before venturing out. Make sure you don’t skip a meal or your child’s nap time.

It can take some compromise on your part as a parent to make sure your child finds a place to take his nap while you’re out, but it will make both of you happy in the long term.

 Seeking attention

Your child may be trying to get your attention and has learned that getting attention through misbehaviour is easier and more effective.

What you can do:  Try to ignore unwanted attention-seeking behaviour as long as your child isn’t harming himself or others. Make sure you praise positive behaviour so your child realises there is an alternative way to get your attention.

With repetition, your child will learn he can do positive things instead of misbehaving to get your attention.

 Displaying inadequacy

Children who feel inadequate will refuse to try new things and tend to give up easily.

What you can do: Offer your child encouragement when approaching a task. Use encouraging words and phrases like "You can do it!"

Try to offer your child toys or activities that are within your child’s developmental abilities, with enough of challenge to help him learn but not to cause frustration. Make steps as basic as necessary for your child to experience success.

Remember to give him the space and independence to do it on his own, but be close by in case he asks for help.


Children who want to be in control refuse to follow direct requests, lash out when reprimanded and refuse to do what their parents request.

What you can do: Don’t get yourself into a power struggle; simply state your expectations and consequences in advance. If your child does not follow through (e.g. with cleaning up), then follow with the consequence (can’t go out to play).

With repetition and time your child will learn to avoid consequences with minimal conflict.

As a parent, make sure you do not insist on everything as well. It’s best to keep firm rules down to a few that mainly concern safety, like crossing the street or not touching the oven. This gives you room to compromise and revisit other rules as your child grows and has different developmental needs and capabilities.

Give your child more opportunities to exercise his independence, like choosing his clothes, making his lunch and setting the table.

 Revenge-seeking behaviour

Revenge-seeking behaviour is when your child shows mean behaviour like saying “I don’t love you” or breaking another child’s toy. This behaviour shows that your child feels he has no value or little worth.

What you can do: There is usually an underlying reason why children lash out with hurtful words and phrases. Sometimes a simple incident, like leaving a birthday before seeing the clown, can seem like the end of the world for your child, who has such intense emotions.

Children in this situation need to know their feelings and opinions matter even if you can’t give them what they want. The best way to handle this is to avoid consequences that might be viewed as retaliation.

Instead help him make amends, like fixing the friend’s toy or make sure you explain why you had to leave the birthday at that time and acknowledge your child’s feelings.

Most importantly remind your child that you LOVE him even when he is misbehaving. This can be hard, but will help him stop acting out of revenge.

Jailan Heidar


Jailan Heidar

Jailan Heidar provides support for English speaking parents of young children in the Netherlands. She is a Parent and Teacher Educator with a specialized interest in child behavior and positive...

Read more



Leave a comment