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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.

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.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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Researchers at Harvard University have studied the connection between spanking and kids' brain development for the first time, and their findings echo what studies have indicated for years: Spanking isn't good for children.

Comments on this article will no doubt be filled with people who a) say they were spanked and "turned out fine" or b) say that the reason kids are [fill in the blank with some societal ill] these days are because they aren't spanked. However, a growing body of research points to spanking creating more problems than it solves.

"We know that children whose families use corporal punishment are more likely to develop anxiety, depression, behavior problems, and other mental health problems, but many people don't think about spanking as a form of violence," said Katie A. McLaughlin, director of the Stress & Development Lab in the Department of Psychology, and the senior researcher on the study which was published Friday in the journal Child Development. "In this study, we wanted to examine whether there was an impact of spanking at a neurobiological level, in terms of how the brain is developing."

You can read the entire study here, but the gist is that kids' brain activity was measured using an MRI machine as they reacted to photos of actors displaying "fearful" and "neutral" faces. What researchers found was that kids who had been spanked had similar brain neural responses to fearful faces as kids who had been abused.

"There were no regions of the brain where activation to fearful relative to neutral faces differed between children who were abused and children who were spanked," the authors wrote in a statement.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less