Why Do Children Misbehave?

While it can sometimes feel like it, your children are not secretly plotting to take over the household for their own selfish purposes. Some parents feel powerless the first time their child acts contrarily to what mom wants. For others it happens at different stages, the well known terrible twos, the sullen pre-adolescent and let’s not forget the disrespectful teen.

Misbehavior can seem like a big mystery with no apparent cause. How is it possible that nice parents who treat their children well can have such problems with their behavior?

It is important to know where misbehavior comes from and have an understanding of the principles that govern behavior. Since parenthood does not come with a manual, much of this information is not obvious to shed light on why children can easily annoy, anger, discourage and elicit resentment in their parents and other adults.

Alfred Adler was a psychologist who did much of his work around families and children. His premise about how misbehavior develops is masterful. The best aspect of his theory is that children are not inherently bad or good but learn how to behave based on the response they get in their attempts to belong in their family. One of Adler’s great ideas was, ‘children are great observers but not very good interpreters’. What he meant was that children watch and see everything that goes on in their family but because of their inexperience do not always come to the right conclusion about what it means. They make inappropriate decisions and begin to act from those decisions because they produce the result of getting attention and contributing to their sense of belonging. Even if parents would classify their actions as misbehavior. What is important to a child is to get attention even if it is negative.

Many things contribute to a child’s idea of his place in the family. Birth order, temperament, gender and inherent abilities are all aspects of how a child’s beliefs get formed. Regardless of the affects of all these things, misbehavior falls into 4 main categories that with a little practice you can easily recognize and learn to respond in ways that change misbehavior into cooperation.

Adler’s approach to child rearing has been interpreted by several authors and psychotherapists into an easy to understand, practical, result oriented democratic parenting style. It is so useful because it never labels a child as bad because their bad behavior comes from a mistaken goal of how he needs to behave to belong in his family. A child’s behavior is unconsciously driven based on past experiences. For instance, Sam’s mom is often distracted and unavailable. But when Sam hits his younger brother and the crying starts, mom is all ears. Sam gets spanked and yelled at but at least he knows she is aware of him. So, he will repeat any behavior that gets her attention, even if he suffers in the process. Adler’s parenting information also describes for parents what their specific feelings mean in response to a child when he misbehaves which becomes a guide to different reponses. When a parent changes what they do in response to misbehavior the child’s behavior will change too.

With observation and a little practice, parents begin to see a pattern to the misbehavior and more importantly to their unconscious responses that actually promote the very misbehavior they are trying to stop.

While there are many books on this respectful parenting style, it is useful to take a parenting class with a counselor or parent educator to help while you take on the parenting challenge of learning how to parent differently.

This entry was posted in Parenting.

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