What causes children to misbehave?

Basic triggers that cause children to misbehave.

Winter can cause disruptions in a household.Little boy pouting One disruption is having to be inside more often due to the cold weather. This close proximity can cause tension, which can lead to young children misbehaving. There are many reasons that children misbehave regardless of the weather. Having a basic understanding of what triggers children to misbehave will help keep homes happy and safe.

One basic understanding is that children (adults also) will misbehave when they are bored, hungry, tired or sick. People will not have as much tolerance and be more irritable when they are tired, hungry or not feeling well. Another reason why children misbehave is that they may not fully understand the rules. For example, if you ask a child to “be quiet,” they may not understand that you mean not to say anything. This is also an example of a lack of experience. Children do not have the experiences that adults have. It takes time for a child to fully develop problem solving and communication skills.

Sometimes misbehaviors are accidently rewarded by adults and become a pattern of behavior. An example is when an adult asks a child to do something, and the child waits to do it until the adults’ tone of voice increases, or crying and whining gets a parents attention. Children also copy what they see others doing.

Sometimes children do things they know are wrong – such as testing the rules and showing independence. Nobody likes to be told what to do all the time and not have any choices. Children are learning how to do many things at a fast rate and they need to be able to show off what they have learned, or can do.

The definition of discipline is to teach, guide and train. Try to exercise or do some physical activity to manage tension or stress, and remember these seven triggers that can cause children and adults to misbehave:

  • Bored, hunger, tired or sick
  • Don’t understand the rules
  • Lack of experience
  • Misbehavior was accidently rewarded
  • Testing the rules
  • Copying others
  • Showing independence

For more on working with children that misbehave or for winter activity ideas, visit the Michigan State University Extension website and look in the Family topic.

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