10 Surprising Reasons Why Kids Misbehave

The Real Reasons that Kids Don't Follow the Rules

There are many reasons why kids misbehave on purpose.
Frank Herholdt / The Image Bank / Getty Images

Kids use their behavior to show how they’re feeling and what they’re thinking. Often, they’re communicating something through their behavior that they aren’t necessarily able to verbalize. When determining what discipline action to take to address misbehavior, it can be helpful to examine the likely underlying cause for the behavior problem.

1. They Want Attention

When kids want attention, misbehavior is often a great means of getting it.

Often, when a parent is on the phone, visiting with friends or family, or otherwise occupied, kids feel left out. They’ll whine, throw a temper tantrum, or hit a sibling to get attention.

Even if it’s negative attention, kids still crave it. They want an adult to look at them, talk to them, or pay them some attention. Ignoring negative behavior and praising positive behavior is one of the best ways to deal with attention-seeking behaviors.

2. They're Copying Others

Kids learn how to behave by watching others. Whether they see a peer at school misbehave or they’re copying something they’ve seen on TV, kids will often repeat it.

It’s important to limit what children are exposed to. Monitor what your child watches on TV, plays for video games, and views online. Role model healthy behavior to teach your child the appropriate way to behave in various situations.

3. They're Testing Limits

When you’ve established rules and told kids what they’re not allowed to do, they often want to see if you’re serious.

They test limits just to find out what the consequences will be when they break the rules.

It’s important to set clear limits and offer consequences consistently. If kids think there’s a small chance they may be able to get away with something, they’re often tempted to try it. If you make it clear that they’ll receive a negative consequence each time they break a rule, they’ll be less likely to continue breaking the rules.

4. They Lack Skills

Sometimes behavior problems stem from a lack of skills. A child who lacks social skills may hit another child. A child who lacks problem-solving skills may not clean his room because he isn’t sure what to do when his toys don’t fit in the toy box.

Use discipline to teach your child new skills that will help him manage his behavior better next time. When your child misbehaves, instead of just giving him a consequence, teach him what to do instead. Show him alternatives to misbehavior so he can learn from his mistakes.

5. They Want Independence

Kids often break the rules and behave defiantly in an attempt to assert their independence. Throughout each developmental stage, kids often want to develop more autonomy. Often, they need discipline and guidance because they aren’t ready for as much independence as they think they deserve.

As preschoolers learn to do more things on their own, they often want to show off their new skills. Tweens also are known for their attempts to be independent.

They may become more argumentative and may behave disrespectfully at times.

Teens may become rebellious in an attempt to show adults that they can think for themselves. They may break the rules on purpose and may try to show adults that they can’t be forced to do things they don’t want to do.

6. Can’t Control Their Emotions

Sometimes kids have no idea what to do about their feelings. They may become easily overwhelmed when they feel angry, and as a result, they may become aggressive. They may even act out when they feel overly excited, stressed, or bored.

Kids need to learn healthy ways to deal with feelings such as sadness, disappointment, frustration, and anxiety. Teach kids about feelings and show them healthy ways to manage their emotions to prevent them from misbehaving.

When kids have better control over their emotions, they can use healthy coping skills to deal with their feelings. Instead of misbehaving to express their emotions, a child may learn to take a time out on his own to calm down.

7. Unmet Needs

When a child feels hungry, tired, or ill, misbehavior often ensues. Most toddlers and preschoolers aren’t good at communicating what they need.

As a result, they often use their behavior to show that they have unmet needs. Parents can help prevent behavior problems by looking for unmet needs.

For example, take a toddler shopping after he’s had a nap and when you’ve got snacks on hand. Ask your child how he’s feeling and look for cues that he may have some unmet needs.

Children who chronically have serious needs that aren’t met, such as in the case of neglect, may have serious behavior problems. Kids need close attachments to adults and if these needs go unmet, it can contribute to behavior problems.

8. Power and Control

Power and control often contribute to misbehavior. Sometimes defiant and argumentative behavior results when a child attempts to regain some control.

When behavior problems result from a child’s attempt to have some control over a situation, a power struggle may ensue. One way to avoid a power struggle is to offer a child two choices. For example, ask “Would you rather clean your room now or after this TV show is over?”

By offering two choices, you can give kids some control over the situation. This can reduce a lot of arguments and can get increase the likelihood that a child will comply with instructions.

9. It Gets Them What They Want

One of the simplest reasons children misbehave is because it is effective. If breaking the rules gets them what they want, they’ll quickly learn that misbehavior works.

For example, a child who whines until his mother gives in will learn that whining is a great way to get whatever he wants. Or a child who throws a temper tantrum in the middle of the store, and his father agrees to buy him a toy to get him to stop screaming, learns that temper tantrums are effective.

10. Underlying Mental Health Issues

Sometimes children have underlying mental health issues that contribute to behavior problems. ADHD is a mental health condition that causes children to be hyperactive and inattentive. As a result, they struggle to follow directions and behave impulsively.

At other times, underlying anxiety or depression can contribute to behavior problems. An anxious child may avoid going to classes that make him feel nervous. A depressed child may be irritable and lack the motivation to complete his chores or his school work.

If you suspect your child may have any underlying mental health issue or developmental disorder, talk to your child’s pediatrician. An evaluation by a trained mental health professional may be necessary to determine if there are any underlying emotional issues contributing to behavior problems.

Continue Reading