Understanding your child's misbehaviour

It's no secret that children don't always do what we would like them to. But take heart: according to the parenting and child development experts at Invest in Kids, you can rarely chalk a young child's misbehavior up to defiance. It takes a few years before very young children can control their behaviour, know the rules and consistently follow them. And it takes a lot of trial and error to get to that point.

To help you better understand and respond to your child's behaviour, here are five reasons why young children might misbehave:

Your child may be upset. As a result, she may not know how to communicate what's bothering him, so it comes out in other ways. He isn't acting that way to make you mad.

2. Your child may be trying hard to be independent but is still a bit scared. This might cause sudden shifts in emotions and tantrums. While this behaviour begins to happen a lot around the age of two, it continues off and on throughout the growing-up years.

3. Your child may be uncomfortable doing what you ask, or may be resentful and overwhelmed in certain situations. This can easily happen if you have not prepared your child for new situations, like a visit to a friend’s or relative's home.

4. Your child may just be an unusually determined child – a characteristic that can be very positive when he becomes an adult.

5. Expecting more from your child than he is capable of can lead to some surprises. For instance, expecting a curious toddler not to touch grandma’s fine crystal ornaments may be asking too much.

Here are eight ways to help you manage your child's behaviour:

1. All children break rules at times. Instead of losing your temper, try to figure out what caused your child’s behaviour and what to do about it. Think about what's appropriate for the situation and for how your child was feeling. Was she bored? Upset? Excitedly trying new things? Understanding your child's feelings may help you guide him better and control your own emotions.

2. Know your child's temperament and what behaviour is reasonable for your child’s age.

3. Start setting some limits beyond safety when your child is a toddler. Try simple rules such as, "hands to yourself" or "gentle touches."

4. Be consistent and firm in your response to your child's behaviour. This will reinforce your message about what's appropriate and what's not.

5. Praise your child's good behaviour. He will be encouraged by your positive feedback and want to continue to please you in similar ways.

6. Plan ahead by talking to your child about new situations before he experiences them. Also talk about your expectations of your child in that situation, and bring along toys, books and other favourite things your child might enjoy.

7. If your child is very strong-willed, you will need to develop great patience and fortitude to eventually get your points across. You and your child may need to learn not to let this strong will interfere with how the two of you get along. You may also need to enlist others, such as grandparents and close friends, to help back you up, as well as to give you relief.

8. Talk to your child calmly about her behaviour and encourage her to do the same. Say things like, "Your behaviour tells me you are frustrated or upset. Please use your words to tell me what’s wrong."

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