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It is easy to interpret children's behavior in a negative way. We often perceive the behavior as an expression of disobedience, even if it is about completely different things. Here are 10 examples.

 Image: Dreamstime (with licence)

 These examples are from an article on Psychology Today written by PhD Erin Leyba. 

She says that it is important that parents have an understanding of behaviors in children that can be perceived as problematic, but which are not meant to hurt from the child. She writes:

When we manage to see that children's unwanted behavior is reactions to environmental conditions, to the children's natural developmental level, or to the adults' actions - then we become able to be at the forefront and have much more compassion.

Here is the list taken from Leyba's article. The examples are also largely hers, but with a certain artistic freedom.


  1. Unable to control impulses

    An example might be when we tell the child "do not do it" and then the child does it anyway. Young children have to a small extent developed the ability for self-control, while there is also a difference between children, so that even older children may have difficulty holding back an impulse.

  2. Is overstimulated

    We live busy lives, and parents do not always think about how overwhelming everyday life can be for their children. What appears to be bad behavior can in many cases be a completely natural reaction to the child feeling totally overwhelmed. Then yelling and banging is not a solution either, but to give the child the opportunity to calm down - and to see if you can make better arrangements to avoid overstimulation in the future. Many children have a great need for respite in their daily lives - and for many it can give a dramatic improvement in behavior. 

  3. A basic need (e.g. hunger) is not taken care of

    Many conditions can be the cause of problematic behavior, for example that the child is hungry, tired, thirsty, sick, or the like. Children will often have difficulty understanding and communicating these real needs - and it ends up with "bad" behavior instead. 

  4. Have strong feelings

    As adults, we have through a long life received training in dealing with emotions, to calm emotions, and to make them more manageable. Then we naturally also become better at controlling our own behavior despite strong emotions. The same cannot be said of children. They have less training, and will often not be able to handle strong emotions particularly well. Here, parents have an important task as role models, and then the child will learn to handle emotions better over time.

  5. Needs to move

    Sitting still at the table is just one example of something that is easy for adults, but which can be much more difficult for children. It is normal to go through developmental periods where you need a lot of movement, and here children are also different. Facilitating a certain degree of movement is probably more effective in such cases than stepping in fully to "defeat" the troubled child with strict requirements.

  6. Need to protest

    The child also goes through phases of his development where it is important to be able to protest and resist, which helps to develop independence. Here we can remember that there is something good in the fact that the child is actually protesting - and that we as parents have not managed to "kill" the child's self-will (because we do not want that).

  7. When a strenght has disadvantages

    We all have strengths that can also be unfortunate. For example, especially "kind" children may have a lot of empathy with other people, and that's great. But the flip side of the coin may be that empathy translates into the child being overly influenced by the mood of others. Here we must remember that it is with children as with adults. We all have our strengths, which are also weaknesses in certain situations.

  8. Need to play or have fun

    Children have a different view of life than parents have, and that is something that makes children children. Thus, what is "supposed" to be a serious situation in the parents' perspective is often not quite as serious in the child's perspective. It can be something as simple as playing with food. Again, we must remember that it is after all good if the child has this playfulness, and that we as parents have not succeeded in cracking it.

  9. Responds to parents' (bad) mood

    When parents are in a bad mood, we behave in ways that can have an immediate effect on the children as well. Then there will be plenty of opportunity for self-fulfilling prophecies of the type "why are you so disobedient?" - something that arouses the defiance of the child to resist - and to be disobedient. Here, all parents probably fail quite a lot, but most things can be repaired - and just as parents tolerate a lot of their children, so children also tolerate a lot of their parents.

  10. Reacts to indistinct boundaries

    When we as parents are unclear about which boundaries apply, it is not surprising if the child again and again wants to test where these boundaries are. Such blurred boundaries create frustration and invite behaviors such as sewing, crying, and yelling. Both children and adults want to know what to expect. In other words: Just trying to be 100% consistent with the rules that apply can be helpful if the child often tests the limits.



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