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When "Good" Kids Misbehave

teen and mom

If you've strolled through parenthood so far with very few difficulties, consider yourself lucky. Kids push buttons, argue and bend the rules because that's their job. It's how kids learn right from wrong. It's how they learn how to make responsible decisions and good choices in life. With loving support and consistency, kids will learn.  When parents are used to misbehaving kids, they spring into action without a thought, setting consequences, boundaries and rules. But some parents are thrown into a tailspin when their children misbehave because they aren't used to it. Their kids are mostly compliant and easy, and they really don't have the parenting tools in place to deal with difficult behavior.  What then?

It's important to understand a few reasons why kids misbehave. Then you can better deal with the misbehavior and plan for next time!

Your child is tired and hungry. 

Just like adults, kids melt down when their basic needs aren't met. Some kids can go and go while others crash without enough sleep or food. And during growth spurts, kids may need extra food and sleep. A tired and hungry child won't feel like being obedient or following directions.

The fix:  Make sure that your child is getting enough rest. Is she getting to bed on time? Did she stay up all night at a friend's house? Plan for the circumstances, and don't take her shopping all day if she had a slumber party the night before. Take it easy the next day, and know that she'll be tired. Be patient and observant. If it seems like your child needs extra sleep, give her the opportunity to sleep in. Many teenagers need more sleep and actually get less because they don't feel tired until way past their bedtimes. Pay attention to their prebedtime behavior. Are they staying up playing video games or watching tv? This behavior could be the culprit as to why your child isn't tired at night!

As with sleep, kids need different amounts of food to keep them functioning optimally. Be aware of when your kids are eating, how much they are eating and what they are eating. Check in to see if they are eating their lunches at school, and if not, find out why and propose a solution. Sometimes, kids don't always recognize that they are hungry, but they  may act grouchy or difficult. A change of diet or frequency of meals or snacks can help tremendously. Check in with a physician for some healthy nutrition tips.

Your child wants attention. 

Sometimes angry attention is better than no attention. When kids are lacking attention from peers, teachers or parents, they may act inappropriately to get attention.

The fix: If you see an increase in your child's misbehavior, take a look at your life and see if things have gotten more chaotic. Have you spent any one-on-one time with your child? Are you checking in about school and friends? If your child is younger, has he been in the care of others more than normal? If your child is acting out at school, you may want to check in to see if there are any social issues or academic difficulties. If it seems like your child does need some attention, make time for him. Plan a weekly "date". Check in daily about school and friends. The more positive attention that you give your child, the less he'll need to get your negative attention.

Your child is angry.

Anger can be demonstrated in many ways. Some kids are moody and ignore adults. Others will  become physical,  bully peers or siblings, or throw tantrums. Kids don't always understand their feelings but will act them out. With teenagers, anger is easier to pinpoint because they are more verbal . But even teens act out their anger.

The fix: Try to find the source of your child's anger.  Some reasons may include continual frustration over an issue that is bothering her, a change in environment, a dislike of someone, a perception that she is being treated unfairly, or physical or mental abuse. Younger kids, especially, may not always understand why they are angry.  A school counselor or family therapist can be a helpful resource in this case and can also give parents tips on how to manage angry outbursts.

If your child is misbehaving due to anger issues, be loving, supportive and communicative. But don't waver. It's important to firmly set limits and stand by consequences. Kids need to know that angry acting out is not ok. Give them the opportunity to verbalize their feelings and communicate in healthy ways. Take a look at some of our anger management resources.

Your child feels hopeless.

Most children probably can't verbalize or even begin to understand a feeling of hopelessness. A hopeless child may act out and misbehave to let you know that he does not feel right in some way. Hopelessness in children can occur for many reasons. These include disappointment, a failure to meet expectations they have for themselves or that others have for them, abuse, or bullying. Children may also feel hopeless due to a life circumstance such as a death of a loved one, a move or divorce.

The fix:  When you see a change in your child's behavior, evaluate your life circumstances. Play detective. Has your family moved? Is there a divorce? Have your lost a loved one? Is your child in a new grade or school? If your child is old enough, check in verbally to see how things are going. Open up discussion about life changes. And look at your own parenting style. Have you been too hard on your child? Do you have unreasonable expectations? Maybe there is a problem at school or a bullying situation. Check in with your child's teacher, and if possible, help out at school so you can be an observer. See a family therapist or school counselor if your child is having difficulty communicating. Be supportive, loving and pull back if you've been too hard on her. Make sure that you give positive feedback whenever you see behavior that you like.

Your child is sick.

Many kids do not have the knowledge or ability to understand the changes in their bodies that occur during a physical illness. Especially when an illness is first appearing, younger children may seem cranky, tired or hungry but don't have the verbal skills to explain that they are feeling sick. And teenagers may ignore illness. If there is a party on the weekend or a sporting event, a teen may appear slightly off in his behavior but function as normal so he's not restricted from any fun events.

The fix: You know your child best. Pay close attention to his behavior at all times. And if he seems "off" in some way and demonstrates behavior such as lethargy, loss of appetite, increased sleepiness, or seems extra cranky, take note.  Get your child in for a complete physical exam, even if you're not sure if illness is the cause. It's better to be safe and address the symptoms early on.

As you can see, kids misbehave for a variety of reasons. So if your little angel changes overnight into someone you don't recognize, pay attention, play detective and give her the type of support she needs.