As parents, we try to teach our kids the difference between right and wrong so we sometimes have little tolerance for what we perceive to be ‘naughty’ behaviour. This obviously depends on our parenting style as a stricter parent will tend to be less tolerant of ‘naughty’ behaviour. Our kids may be shouting at the top of their lungs, crying because they want something that they can’t have or running around the supermarket like a maniac, and we’re left wondering ‘What on earth have I done wrong, I thought they knew better than to behave like this?!’.
Well, as discussed in ‘Not Naughty: 10 Ways Kids Appear to Be Acting Bad But Aren’t’, the good news is that it’s time for us all to give ourselves a break because misbehaviour isn’t a sign of bad parenting or an indication that your child is ‘bad’ or ‘naughty’. It is usually a completely normal and healthy phase of their development. So the next time your kid decides to act up and you feel on the verge of having a meltdown, take a few deep breaths and try to look at what might be causing their behaviour. Because once we understand what’s causing their naughty behaviour and stop blaming ourselves or them, it’s then far easier to respond in a constructive and compassionate way and not to immediately dish out a consequence or punishment.
Let’s look at ten of the most common causes of naughty behaviour:
- Kids’ brains are still developing
We can sometimes have unrealistic expectations of our kids, we forget that their brains are still developing and that things that might come easily to us are much harder for them. In fact, research suggests that 56% of parents expect children under three to be able to resist the temptation to do something forbidden, such as eating ice cream before dinner. But according to child psychologists and developmental experts, the majority of kids aren’t able to master this skill until they’re at least three and a half to four years old. And the areas of the brain involved in self-control don’t fully mature until after adolescence. So the next time you ask your kid not to do something and they do it anyway, at least now you have some insight as to why!
It’s important to keep kids’ minds engaged and their bodies active, but it’s equally important to balance this out with plenty of rest and downtime. Modern life can be very fast and hectic at times even for adults, so when we overschedule our kids’ lives with too much socialising and too many activities, they can become overstimulated. When kids have the right balance in their lives between rest, play and activity, any ‘naughty’ behaviours such as tantrums or hyperactivity tend to improve dramatically.
- Physical influences
Sleep deprivation, hunger and/or sickness can affect us in many ways, we can become irritable or impatient and may find it hard to concentrate or find that we are quick to lose our tempers. Well, for kids the effect is even greater. If our kids our over-tired, sick, hungry or have too much sugar in their system, the effect on their behaviour can be drastic. So if our kids start misbehaving, it’s always worth checking that their basic needs are met before we label them as ‘naughty’ and start dishing out consequences.
- Powerful emotions
Strong emotions such as fear, anger and frustration can be difficult even for adults to deal with, and many of us have learnt to disguise our strong emotions with humour or hide them from other people entirely. Powerful emotions are even harder for kids to deal with because they’re not used to them and haven’t had the time or experience to develop any coping strategies, so their strong emotions may display as crying, shouting or name-calling. So it’s important that we try to support them through their emotions and show them that they are ok because children will only learn how to deal with such emotions if we give them the opportunity to experience and express them.
- Kids need to move!
As adults it’s easy to forget what it’s like to be a kid, but it’s important to remind ourselves that children crave lots of physical movement and activity in the form of riding bikes, building dens and outside play. So if your kids are fidgeting, crawling and standing on their heads when they should be doing their homework, try taking them for a little walk or a quick trip to the park so that they can exercise away some of their excess energy.
- They’re striving for independence
We all want our kids to become independent and learn to think for themselves, but can easily get annoyed at them when they try to take any form of initiative if it doesn’t fit with the way we see things. It can be frustrating when our three-year-old insists on choosing their own outfit and ends up going to nursery dressed in their favourite Spiderman pyjamas. But it’s important to remember that when kids try to make decisions for themselves, even if they seem silly or wrong to us, they are simply fulfilling their basic need for autonomy and learning to become an independent adult.
- Individual Characteristics
We all have different strengths and weaknesses; some of us are incredibly focused and motivated, but find it difficult to switch off at the end of the day, while others are compassionate and good at listening and find that they end up being an agony aunt to all of their friends! Kids are exactly the same, their strengths can have a downside so it’s useful to keep this in mind whenever they start to misbehave because this can help us to respond in a more patient and understanding way.
- Kids love to play!
Kids love to play, laugh and be silly, even at inappropriate moments. Of course, it’s annoying when they steal our shoes right before we’re about to head off to work, or start playing hide and seek with the car keys when they should be getting ready for school. But it’s important to remember that such behaviours are simply our kids’ way of trying to connect with us. So if this seems to happen regularly, make sure that you’re dedicating enough time to being silly and having fun with them.
- Our own mood and reactions
Have you ever noticed how your mood affects those around you, and how their mood can have an emotional effect on you? This is due ‘mirror neurons’, which exist in the brain and cause us to copy the behaviour of those around us, especially those with whom we have an emotional connection. So when we feel angry or have a negative reaction to our kids’ behaviour, they are likely to ‘mirror’ the same behaviour. So angry behaviour from us is likely to lead to angry behaviour from them, but if we are calm and compassionate, then they have a much better chance of regulating their own emotions.
- Consistency is key
Kids tend to behave better when they know what to expect. So if we are inconsistent in our rules and expectations of them, they are more likely to misbehave as a way of expressing their frustration and sense of unfairness. So it’s important to be as consistent as possible when it comes to rules, boundaries and expectations.