Why is My Child Naughty?

There are many reasons why children misbehave, here are some of the main reasons:

Basic needs aren’t being met – sleep, food, health, stimulation
When children are hungry, tired, unwell, or bored they are more likely to misbehave. Having a structured routine can help reduce these effects. Providing children with books, educational toys or games can reduce misbehaviour in situations where they may get bored (such as long car trips, doctor’s waiting rooms or long queues at the bank).

Desire for attention
Another need children have is the need for attention. If they are not getting attention from their parents,  sometimes negative attention is better than no attention at all, so they will misbehave in ways to get their parents attention, for example shouting, picking fights with siblings, slamming doors, throwing toys. Whining, tantrums, and misbehaviour can be reinforced if the parent gives it attention, even if it is negative attention such as yelling or smacking. The behaviour is even more strongly reinforced and if the parent gives in to the child. In this situation, it is best if the bad behaviour is ignored and good behaviour is reinforced.

Desire to feel safe
Children that feel safe develop a sense of security and enhanced self-esteem. When children do not feel safe, it can lead them to misbehave in a number of ways. Testing boundaries is one way they can make sure there actually are boundaries. Although it may not seem like it at times, children need to know that boundaries exist, and knowing this can help them to feel more safe and secure. Developing a structured routine, and consistent parenting can help the child to feel more safe, and can help reduce misbehaviour.

Desire for control
Children that don’t feel safe often feel the need to be in control, especially if they don’t feel like they can trust their guardian figure to keep them safe. This can result in over reactions and disruptive behaviour when they don’t feel in control. A child may also display oppositional behaviour as a way to feel like they are in control. This type of behaviour may also be part of normal development in children who are trying to gain some independence, or in certain personality types. Providing children with a range of choices with clear boundaries can allow the child independence and a sense of control, whilst still feeling safe. For example, by asking a child would they like a drink of water, milk, or fruit juice, the child is given a sense of control over what they get to drink, but within limits that teach them healthy habits, and so the choices don’t overwhelm them.

They don’t understand what is expected of them
Children rely on their parents to teach them how to understand and behave in a complex world. They are not born inherently knowing that they shouldn’t draw in daddy’s book with a pen, or throw mum’s crystal glass on the floor. Not only do children need to learn how not to behave, they also need to learn what behaviour is expected from them. It is important to use clear, concise, age-appropriate language to tell the child what they should be doing, not just what they shouldn’t be doing. By doing this, you are building up their knowledge about what behaviour is acceptable in different situations. A child under two has very limited understanding of rules, and it is better to consider what needs they are trying to meet by misbehaving. As they get older they develop a greater understanding of what is expected of them. It can help to explain why a particular behaviour is acceptable or unacceptable. This can include practical reasons, such as drawing in daddy’s book means he can’t read it, and can also include feelings, such as “when you smash my crystal glass it makes me feel very sad”.