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10 ways kids appear to be acting naughty but actually aren't.

Many of kids' so-called 'bad' behaviors are actually normal developmental acts of growing up.

10 ways kids appear to be acting naughty but actually aren't.

This article originally appeared on 07.19.17


When we recognize kids' unwelcome behaviors as reactions to environmental conditions, developmental phases, or our own actions, we can respond proactively, and with compassion.

Here are 10 ways kids may seem like they're acting "naughty" but really aren't. And what parents can do to help.


1. They can't control their impulses.

Ever say to your kid, "Don't throw that!" and they throw it anyway?

Research suggests the brain regions involved in self-control are immature at birth and don't fully mature until the end of adolescence, which explains why developing self-control is a "long, slow process."

A recent survey revealed many parents assume children can do things at earlier ages than child-development experts know to be true. For example, 56% of parents felt that children under the age of 3 should be able to resist the desire to do something forbidden whereas most children don't master this skill until age 3 and a half or 4.

What parents can do: Reminding ourselves that kids can't always manage impulses (because their brains aren't fully developed) can inspire gentler reactions to their behavior.

2. They experience overstimulation.

We take our kids to Target, the park, and their sister's play in a single morning and inevitably see meltdowns, hyperactivity, or outright resistance. Jam-packed schedules, overstimulation, and exhaustion are hallmarks of modern family life.

Research suggests that 28% of Americans "always feel rushed" and 45% report having "no excess time." Kim John Payne, author of "Simplicity Parenting," argues that children experience a "cumulative stress reaction" from too much enrichment, activity, choice, and toys. He asserts that kids need tons of "down time" to balance their "up time."

What parents can do: When we build in plenty of quiet time, playtime, and rest time, children's behavior often improves dramatically.

3. Kids' physical needs affect their mood.

Ever been "hangry" or completely out of patience because you didn't get enough sleep? Little kids are affected tenfold by such "core conditions" of being tired, hungry, thirsty, over-sugared, or sick.

Kids' ability to manage emotions and behavior is greatly diminished when they're tired. Many parents also notice a sharp change in children's behavior about an hour before meals, if they woke up in the night, or if they are coming down with an illness.

What parents can do: Kids can't always communicate or "help themselves" to a snack, a Tylenol, water, or a nap like adults can. Help them through routines and prep for when that schedule might get thrown off.

Image via iStock.

4. They can't tame their expression of big feelings.

As adults, we've been taught to tame and hide our big emotions, often by stuffing them, displacing them, or distracting from them. Kids can't do that yet.

What parents can do: Early-childhood educator Janet Lansbury has a great phrase for when kids display powerful feelings such as screaming, yelling, or crying. She suggests that parents "let feelings be" by not reacting or punishing kids when they express powerful emotions. (Psst: "Jane the Virgin" actor Justin Baldoni has some tips on parenting through his daughter's grocery store meltdown.)

5. Kids have a developmental need for tons of movement.

"Sit still!" "Stop chasing your brother around the table!" "Stop sword fighting with those pieces of cardboard!" "Stop jumping off the couch!"

Kids have a developmental need for tons of movement. The need to spend time outside, ride bikes and scooters, do rough-and-tumble play, crawl under things, swing from things, jump off things, and race around things.

What parents can do: Instead of calling a child "bad" when they're acting energetic, it may be better to organize a quick trip to the playground or a stroll around the block.

6. They're defiant.

Every 40- and 50-degree day resulted in an argument at one family's home. A first-grader insisted that it was warm enough to wear shorts while mom said the temperature called for pants. Erik Erikson's model posits that toddlers try to do things for themselves and that preschoolers take initiative and carry out their own plans.

What parents can do: Even though it's annoying when a child picks your tomatoes while they're still green, cuts their own hair, or makes a fort with eight freshly-washed sheets, they're doing exactly what they are supposed to be doing — trying to carry out their own plans, make their own decisions, and become their own little independent people. Understanding this and letting them try is key.

7. Sometimes even their best traits can trip them up.

It happens to all of us — our biggest strengths often reflect our weaknesses. Maybe we're incredibly focused, but can't transition very easily. Maybe we're intuitive and sensitive but take on other people's negative moods like a sponge.

Kids are similar: They may be driven in school but have difficulty coping when they mess up (e.g., yelling when they make a mistake). They may be cautious and safe but resistant to new activities (e.g., refusing to go to baseball practice). They may live in the moment but aren't that organized (e.g., letting their bedroom floor become covered with toys).

What parents can do: Recognizing when a child's unwelcome behaviors are really the flip side of their strengths — just like ours — can help us react with more understanding.

Image via iStock.

8. Kids have a fierce need for play.

Your kid paints her face with yogurt, wants you to chase her and "catch her" when you're trying to brush her teeth, or puts on daddy's shoes instead of her own when you're racing out the door. Some of kids' seemingly "bad" behaviors are what John Gottman calls "bids" for you to play with them.

Kids love to be silly and goofy. They delight in the connection that comes from shared laughter and love the elements of novelty, surprise, and excitement.

What parents can do: Play often takes extra time and therefore gets in the way of parents' own timelines and agendas, which may look like resistance and naughtiness even when it's not. When parents build lots of playtime into the day, kids don't need to beg for it so hard when you're trying to get them out the door.

9. They are hyperaware and react to parents' moods.

Multiple research studies on emotional contagion have found that it only takes milliseconds for emotions like enthusiasm and joy, as well as sadness, fear, and anger, to pass from person to person, and this often occurs without either person realizing it. Kids especially pick up on their parents' moods. If we are stressed, distracted, down, or always on the verge of frustrated, kids emulate these moods. When we are peaceful and grounded, kids model off that instead.

What parents can do: Check in with yourself before getting frustrated with your child for feeling what they're feeling. Their behavior could be modeled after your own tone and emotion.

10. They struggle to respond to inconsistent limits.

At one baseball game, you buy your kid M&Ms. At the next, you say, "No, it'll ruin your dinner," and your kid screams and whines. One night you read your kids five books, but the next you insist you only have time to read one, and they beg for more. One night you ask your child, "What do you want for dinner?" and the next night you say, "We're having lasagna, you can't have anything different," and your kids protest the incongruence.

When parents are inconsistent with limits, it naturally sets off kids' frustration and invites whining, crying, or yelling.

What parents can do: Just like adults, kids want (and need) to know what to expect. Any effort toward being 100% consistent with boundaries, limits, and routines will seriously improve children's behavior.

This story first appeared on Psychology Today and is reprinted here with permission.

Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
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In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons

Wil Wheaton speaking to an audience at 2019 Wondercon.

In an era of debates over cancel culture and increased accountability for people with horrendous views and behaviors, the question of art vs. artist is a tricky one. When you find out an actor whose work you enjoy is blatantly racist and anti-semitic in real life, does that realization ruin every movie they've been a part of? What about an author who has expressed harmful opinions about a marginalized group? What about a smart, witty comedian who turns out to be a serial sexual assaulter? Where do you draw the line between a creator and their creation?

As someone with his feet in both worlds, actor Wil Wheaton weighed in on that question and offered a refreshingly reasonable perspective.

A reader who goes by @avinlander asked Wheaton on Tumblr:

"Question: I have more of an opinion question for you. When fans of things hear about misconduct happening on sets/behind-the-scenes are they allowed to still enjoy the thing? Or should it be boycotted completely? Example: I've been a major fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer since I was a teenager and it was currently airing. I really nerded out on it and when I lost my Dad at age 16 'The Body' episode had me in such cathartic tears. Now we know about Joss Whedon. I haven't rewatched a single episode since his behavior came to light. As a fan, do I respectfully have to just box that away? Is it disrespectful of the actors that went through it to knowingly keep watching?"

And Wheaton offered this response, which he shared on Facebook:

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Images courtesy of Mark Storhaug & Kaiya Bates

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The experiences we have at school tend to stay with us throughout our lives. It's an impactful time where small acts of kindness, encouragement, and inspiration go a long way.

Schools, classrooms, and teachers that are welcoming and inclusive support students' development and help set them up for a positive and engaging path in life.

Here are three of our favorite everyday actions that are spreading kindness on campus in a big way:

Image courtesy of Mark Storhaug

1. Pickleball to Get Fifth Graders Moving

Mark Storhaug is a 5th grade teacher at Kingsley Elementary in Los Angeles, who wants to use pickleball to get his students "moving on the playground again after 15 months of being Zombies learning at home."

Pickleball is a paddle ball sport that mixes elements of badminton, table tennis, and tennis, where two or four players use solid paddles to hit a perforated plastic ball over a net. It's as simple as that.

Kingsley Elementary is in a low-income neighborhood where outdoor spaces where kids can move around are minimal. Mark's goal is to get two or three pickleball courts set up in the schoolyard and have kids join in on what's quickly becoming a national craze. Mark hopes that pickleball will promote movement and teamwork for all his students. He aims to take advantage of the 20-minute physical education time allotted each day to introduce the game to his students.

Help Mark get his students outside, exercising, learning to cooperate, and having fun by donating to his GoFundMe.

Image courtesy of Kaiya Bates

2. Staying C.A.L.M: Regulation Kits for Kids

According to the WHO around 280 million people worldwide suffer from depression. In the US, 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness and 1 in 20 experience severe mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Kaiya Bates, who was recently crowned Miss Tri-Cities Outstanding Teen for 2022, is one of those people, and has endured severe anxiety, depression, and selective mutism for most of her life.

Through her GoFundMe, Kaiya aims to use her "knowledge to inspire and help others through their mental health journey and to spread positive and factual awareness."

She's put together regulation kits (that she's used herself) for teachers to use with students who are experiencing stress and anxiety. Each "CALM-ing" kit includes a two-minute timer, fidget toolboxes, storage crates, breathing spheres, art supplies and more.

Kaiya's GoFundMe goal is to send a kit to every teacher in every school in the Pasco School District in Washington where she lives.

To help Kaiya achieve her goal, visit Staying C.A.L.M: Regulation Kits for Kids.

Image courtesy of Julie Tarman

3. Library for a high school heritage Spanish class

Julie Tarman is a high school Spanish teacher in Sacramento, California, who hopes to raise enough money to create a Spanish language class library.

The school is in a low-income area, and although her students come from Spanish-speaking homes, they need help building their fluency, confidence, and vocabulary through reading Spanish language books that will actually interest them.

Julie believes that creating a library that affirms her students' cultural heritage will allow them to discover the joy of reading, learn new things about the world, and be supported in their academic futures.

To support Julie's GoFundMe, visit Library for a high school heritage Spanish class.

Do YOU have an idea for a fundraiser that could make a difference? Upworthy and GoFundMe are celebrating ideas that make the world a better, kinder place. Visit upworthy.com/kindness to join the largest collaboration for human kindness in history and start your own GoFundMe.

Chris Evans is playing the lead role in the upcoming Pixar film "Lightyear."

Chris Evans was already skilled at squeezing hearts on social media, cavalierly sharing sweet pics of his adorable dog and piano-playing videos on Instagram, as if we could just casually watch him be a near-perfect man without swooning. And now he's being even more delightful with his gushing giddiness over getting to play his dream role.

The guy is already best known as the studly Marvel superhero Captain America, so what could possibly top that? Pixar, apparently. Evans' ultimate acting dream is being in a Pixar movie. And now that dream is coming true, the most eligible of the Chrises could not be cuter in his expressions of joy.

Sharing the new trailer for "Lightyear"—Pixar's origin story about the astronaut the Buzz Lightyear toy was based on in the "Toy Story" universe—Evans wrote on Twitter:

"I'm covered in goosebumps. And will be every time I watch this trailer. Or hear a Bowie song. Or have any thought whatsoever between now and July cause nothing has ever made me feel more joy and gratitude than knowing I'm a part of this and it's basically always on my mind."

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Cipolla's graph with the benefits and losses that an individual causes to him or herself and causes to others.

Have you ever known someone who was educated, well-spoken and curious, but had a real knack for making terrible decisions and bringing others down with them? These people are perplexing because we're trained to see them as intelligent, but their lives are a total mess.

On the other hand, have you ever met someone who may not have a formal education or be the best with words, but they live wisely and their actions uplift themselves and others?

In 1976, Italian economist Carlo Cipolla wrote a tongue-in-cheek essay called "The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity" that provides a great framework for judging someone's real intelligence. Now, the term "stupid" isn't the most artful way of describing someone who lives unwisely, but in his essay Cipolla uses it in a lighthearted way.

Cipolla explains his theory of intelligence through five basic laws and a matrix that he believes applies to everyone.

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