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What You Need to Know about Your Child’s Negative Behavior

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As a counselor, I have found that children often have difficulty processing what they are feeling. Most of the time they don’t even recognize the impact of events when they happen. Just like babies don’t have the capacity to communicate why they’re uncomfortable and only know to cry, children will sometimes express emotional discomfort through tantrums, clinginess, aggression, misbehavior, and/or physical pain. Some examples are:

—A child finding a myriad of excuses to get out of bed at bedtime might be communicating, “I’m scared to be alone.”

—Bullying a sibling may be saying, “I’m being bullied at school and no one likes me”.

—Clinginess could be an expression of, “I need your full attention from time to time to know you truly see me.”

—A problem with stealing just might be coming from, “I’m bad because someone touched me inappropriately, so I’ll act bad.”

—Upset stomachs and headaches can often be the result of unprocessed emotions of anger or fear.

Here are three ways to help your child overcome negative behavior that often stems from complicated emotions.

1. Pay attention.

It’s so easy to get caught up in the busyness of daily activities and not pay attention to what our child’s behavior is actually communicating. There is usually a root cause. But instead of reacting to the behavior, try to look past it and see if they are expressing a feeling they can’t identify. Could it be anger, fear, or sadness? Could it be a need for comfort, quality time with you, or more rest?

2. Letting a child vent their frustrations without correcting them in the moment is good for both the child and the parent.

For instance, anger is a normal emotion, and as parents, we can help our children learn how to deal with anger in healthy ways. For example, your child says, “Tommy wouldn’t let me play with his new Legos and he made me play with his old ones with broken pieces. He’s a jerk! I hate him!” Though we might want to teach our kids not to call people names and not to hate (which is important), it is also equally important to allow our child to express his/her emotions about the injustice. That way, as we listen and affirm their feelings, they feel valued and heard. Then you actually have their attention to guide them to healthy conclusions and solutions. But if a child is corrected for the way they express their feelings in the moment it teaches them that anger is bad and it gets either internalized and possibly redirected destructively. Here are some ways to take your child’s emotional temperature to see if complicated emotions might be the source of their behavior.

3. Feeling charts are great tools to help kids identify what they’re feeling.

Sitting down with your child and having them circle or cross off the faces that express what they feel gives you an opportunity to then dialogue with them about ways to work through these emotions. Often just the mere act of identification is helpful.

Taking the time now to work through these things will save a lot of behavioral problems in the future.

Readers, take a moment and let us know: what you have discovered about your child’s negative behavior?


What do you do when you’re feeling angry about something?

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