Why Kids Misbehave and What to Do About It



child misbehaving is something I see on a regular basis in my profession as a middle school teacher. Whether it be shouting out something inappropriate to another student, calling someone a name, or making a loud, funny noise to get a reaction from others, children exhibit a variety of obnoxious, immature, and disruptive behaviors.

How to prevent or stop a child from misbehaving

Children, in general, act out to seek negative attention. If there is a potential audience available to fuel the behavior, then that behavior and those actions will likely persist. The key factor in determining whether or not a problem behavior will persist or be eliminated is based largely on your reaction to the child’s behavior and how you respond to it.

1. Teach a child empathy.

When a child is taught how his or her behaviors affect others around them, they are more likely to display positive, kind, and caring behaviors. Many children who exhibit problem behaviors may be dealing with anxiety, fear, lack of acceptance from others, rejection and not have the coping mechanisms to appropriately handle these issues and act out to protect themselves from further backlash from their peers, teachers, and/or parents.

2. Acknowledge positive behavior exhibited and ignore behavior that isn’t harmful.

Kids often misbehave because they are seeking attention and don’t know any other viable means to obtain it other than to act out. Praising good behavior can turn that around. In my class, I appreciate it when someone offers to help pass out papers, clean up lab stations, assist someone who may be struggling, or simply raise their hand and wait to be called on during class discussion. I typically respond by saying statements to the like of:

“Thank you for raising your hand and waiting to be called on to answer that question.”

“Thank you for your kindness and offering to help…”

“I appreciate that you have your homework ready to be collected.”

“Keep up the great work. I am very proud of you.”

It all depends on the child, but looking and expecting good is oftentimes the solution and what you will get from a child. English writer W. Somerset Maugham once said,

“It’s a funny thing about life, if you refuse to accept anything but the best, you very often get it.”

3. Take away privileges.

However, if despite your efforts at teaching a child that their actions affect others, offering praise to positive behavior displayed, and ignoring attention-seeking behavior, your child continues misbehaving in an inappropriate manner and it is negatively affecting others or putting themselves or others in, then a clear consequence needs to immediately follow.

It could be as simple as a time out to remove them from the situation or shift their attention away from their current behaviors and give them time to reflect on what they did wrong and how they should have behaved. Removing a privilege of some sorts  is a common practice for curbing bad behavior, especially with older children. Anything from removal of electronics, toys, losing a sleepover, and not playing with friends are standard options for consequences that will typically render future good results, as long as a child understands the basis for why they lost their privileges and the expected behavior in the future.

Whether it is at home, at school, or in public around others when the misbehavior takes place, if the environment is reinforcing that behavior through others laughing or yelling for the person to stop, then that may be the unfortunate catalyst that keeps the problem behavior going. Hence, the child will see no reason why he or she should discontinue their actions when they are getting a reaction out of someone.

4. Model behavior you expect of your child.

It goes back to the monkey see, monkey do adage. Children are keen observers of their surrounding and require parents to not only teach them good manners and help them develop a sense of morality, but also watch how their parents and other adults in their lives display politeness, kindness, respect, and acceptance toward one another.

In my new book, The Ultimate Guide to Raising Teens and Tweens, I overview the C.A.L.M. technique on how you can easily and effectively reduce or flat out eliminate problem behavior and get your child to discover for themselves how their actions result in specific consequences or rewards.

To You and Your Child!