Why DO children act up, misbehave and get ‘naughty?’

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That word ‘naughty.’

It’s quite laden.

So, what does the word mean?

It usually means that your child is exhibiting behaviour that you find frustrating, irritating, confusing, challenging, annoying or even bizarre!

So are your kids mischievous, spirited, not doing as they’re told, downright disobedient or are you not very sure of your rules, not very confident or not being consistent?

There’s a difference & as you know raising happy, confident, balanced and self-regulating children is hard work.

Labels Are Limiting

Often parents label their kids as ‘naughty’ because they’re not conforming. There are a number of reasons for this – they are testing you out, you’re not clear in what you want them to do, they’re tired, you’re tired or they are simply not mature enough yet to self-regulate their own behaviour.

Here are some helpful ways you can deal with everything from tantrums, homework meltdowns to bedtime battles.

Tantrums, whining, not listening, homework meltdowns, technology obsessed arguments, fussy eating, potty training power struggles are enough to drive you crazy!

So why do kids really misbehave? What’s the underlying reason?

To answer that question, you’ve got to become a Detective, like Sherlock Holmes & look for the underlying root cause to those annoyingly frustrating, exasperating, disobeying behaviours.

Children (and adults, for that matter) have a need for belonging and significance. It’s just the way we’re programmed. ‘Belonging’ refers to the emotional connection and positive attention we need with one another & ‘Significance’ refers to our sense of autonomy, capability, and need to make contributions in meaningful ways & to feel important, that we count & matter within our families but also within the world.

It’s part of  my Positive Pillars that underpins all of my work based on Adlerian psychology.

Without both of these innate needs of Connection (belonging) & Counting (significance) being met, children will misbehave.

I always say ‘Children spell love T-I-M-E .’ It builds their self-esteem & inner confidence. It shows your child practically that you care, so they feel important, significant, safe, secure & that they belong & are loved.

When a child doesn’t feel a strong sense of belonging, they will act up, become naughty & attention seeking & behave in ways that they (mistakenly) believe will give them the emotional connection and positive attention they crave regardless of their age.

Feeling Competent

A child needs to feel capable & competent so if you constantly rob your child of opportunities to feel capable, they become angry, frustrated & sometimes just give up.

The message you’re sending them is a vote of ‘No Confidence’ & let’s face it no one likes to feel useless.

A child who is made to feel incompetent will fight back with power-seeking behaviours like tantrums, answering back, or by not listening, and react with other power battles with you.

Here’s a ‘Pause to Ponder Moment’ ?

Your child really wants positive power, but the negative power-seeking behaviour is their way whether they are toddlers’ or teens’ way of saying, “You don’t control me! I need some power of my own! – I want some independence.”

A demotivated child can become a ‘naughty’ child so look at which Positive Pillar is being unfulfilled.

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So, that’s WHY.

Now let’s look at WHAT to do!

There are 4 main styles of parenting

Authoritarian or Disciplinarian.

  • Permissive or Indulgent.
  • Uninvolved.
  • Authoritative.

If you lean more towards bring a controlling parent you typically communicate with your children by doing lots of ordering, correcting, directing & bossing about – “get your shoes on, brush your teeth, turn off the TV now – eat your breakfast. it’s time for bed/homework/ revision” None of us, whether we’re adults or children, like to be told what to do. The more we order, correct and direct, the more likely children will “dig their heels in” and engage us in power struggles. It’s their way of saying, “Don’t boss me about all the time”

So, look for ways to offer limited choices – ‘Do you want to do your homework before or after dinner?’ ‘Do you want to wear your blue or your green jumper?’ ‘Do you want to brush your teeth before or after you’ve brushed your hair?’ ‘Do you want a lift to your friend’s house before or after you’d tidied your bedroom?’

It empowers a child with a choice so they feel more in control, independent & capable &  it will cut down on some of the battles!

‘Naughty Steps’ don’t work!

The idea that going to a ‘Naughty Step’ helps a child ‘think about what they have done & how they can make a better choice next time  is rather an idealistic view of kids in my opinion ! They’re more likely to be pondering how unfair you or your partner are for sending them to “Time Out” in the first place or planning revenge on their brother or sister who got them into trouble in the first place!

‘Time Out’ becomes a battle of wills between you and your child.

Yes, sometimes a ‘Cooling Off’ space can be a good idea but the ‘Naughty Step’ & ‘Go to your Bedroom’ doesn’t teach your child to make a better choice in the future which is what we are ultimately after in the first place.

I like Amy McCready author of ‘Positive Discipline Parenting Tools’   5 ‘R’s which includes EFFECTIVE consequences.

An effective consequence is one where your child learns to make a better choice for the future AND you aren’t the baddie!

It’s a far more positive, as well as effective, strategy long term.


R: Respectful

Your goal is not to make your child suffer — but to help them learn to make a better choice in the future.

When you inflict blame, shame or pain as part of a “punishment”, your child is focused on “self-protection,” not learning for the future. An effective consequence is respectful to your child.

R: Related to the Misbehaviour.

For children to learn for the future, the consequence has to “make sense” to your child and should be related to the misbehaviour. For example, the consequence for throwing Lego around the living room is to lose the privilege of playing with Lego for the rest of that day. The consequence for not turning off the iPad game when asked is to lose gaming privileges for the rest of the day/or week.

R: Reasonable in duration based on the child’s age. Don’t ban the iPad for 6 months like one of my past clients – the punishment doesn’t fit the crime and will make matters worse! Pause to Ponder an appropriate and reasonable time limit if you decide to go down this route.

Remember children are motivated ‘towards’ something like a sticker, extra story or a friend round to play or ‘Away’ from – taking time away from something they like doing – like their Lego, iPhone or favourite TV programme.

R: Revealed in Advance: The consequence must be revealed to the child IN ADVANCE so they can make a choice between the appropriate behaviour and the consequence. Unless your child knows ahead of time what the consequence will be, your child isn’t in on your rules and that’s not fair so you will become the “baddie.”

R: Repeat Back to You: To make sure that your child understands what’s expected of them the consequences for not following your rules, ask them to repeat them back to you. For example, “Just so we all understand, can you repeat back to me the rule for turning off the iPad game when I tell you and the consequence if you choose not to do that?”

Once your child repeats it back to you — you have a verbal agreement & you’ve made sure that the rules are constantly being reinforced and understood. There’s no misunderstanding!

You don’t have to get angry, lose the plot or shout. But you do need to make sure that you act on the consequences consistently.

Kids will learn far more from being given the opportunity to make a better choice next time. Helping children make good choices is like any other skill—it has to be learned & it takes time.

I’m all about the long term – raising positive happy kids, who know how to regulate their own behaviour & who have strong self esteem and wellbeing, not damaged by shouting, shaming or belittling them to behave.

If you’d like more information and ideas jump in and join my Parenting Club where you’ll find weekly Quick Win VideoTips, Monthly Webinars on subjects that you send in to me to cover, Master Classes on a whole range of parenting topics & a friendly group of like-minded parents talking, sharing and helping each other on the adventure of raising happy, confident kids.



*References by :

B.L. Bettner and A. Lew (1989, 2005), Raising Kids Who Can, Newton Centre, MA: Connexions Press.

Dr. Rudoph Dreikers Children: The Challenge” (Plume)

**Alfred Adler Individual Psychology Harper Collins

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