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10 times your kid’s ‘bad behavior’ isn’t actually bad

When your child cuts his own hair or makes a fort with freshly washed sheets, he's doing exactly what he's are supposed to be doing.

kid’s ‘bad behavior’ isn’t actually bad

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

Here are 10 ways kids may seem like they're acting "naughty," but really aren't.


1. Not controlling impulses.

Ever say to your kid, “Don't throw that!" and they throw it anyway? Research suggests that 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 that many parents assume children can do things at earlier ages than child-development experts know to be true. For example, 56 percent 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 three-and-a-half or four.

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

2. 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."

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

3. Core conditions.

Ever been “hangry"—angry because you're hungry—or completely out of patience due to sleep deprivation? 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. Kids can't always communicate or “help themselves" to a snack, a Tylenol, water, or a nap like adults can.

4. 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.

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.

5. 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. They have a tremendous 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. 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. Developmentally-wired to resist and become independent.

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 (1963) model posits that toddlers try to do things for themselves, and that preschoolers take initiative and carry out their own plans.

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, separate, make their own decisions, and become their own little independent people.

7. Core strengths that trip them up.

We all have core strengths that can also trip us up. 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 (for example, yelling when they make a mistake). They may be cautious and safe, but resistant to new activities (refusing to go to baseball practice). They may live in the moment, but aren't that organized (letting their bedroom floor become covered with toys).

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.

8. 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.

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. Reaction 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.

10. Response to inconsistent limits.

At one ball 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. 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.

From providing outlets for play to promoting more independence there are ways to help little ones through these unwelcome behaviors. Here are some of our favorite products that can help.

EKOBO bamboo step stool

Ekobo bamboo step stool

A little autonomy can go a long way. This simple sustainable step stool is easy for little ones to carry everywhere from the bathroom to the kitchen to help themselves when possible.

$29

Slumberkins alpaca snuggler

Slumberkins alpaca snuggler

When big feelings get the best of your kiddo, having the words to articulate their emotions can be immensely helpful. The super-soft snugglers from Slumberkins come with a book and mantra card that help children better understand the ways they feel and give them the tools to express them.

$44

We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

14 sweet 'just thinking of you' gifts for every mama

A sweet surprise that tells her you've been thinking of her might be the pick-me-up she needs.

Who says you have to wait for birthdays or holidays to give your bestie a great gift? A sweet surprise that tells her you've been thinking of her might be the pick-me-up she needs in these more-than-trying times. We've rounded up some of our favorite go-to gifts that are certain to be a bright spot in her week. But be warned, you may want to snag a few for yourself. (You deserve it, mama.)

Here are some our favorite "just because" gifts to give our hardworking mama friends.

New Mother face + body care duo

volition face + body care duo

This correcting oil and stretch mark minimizer is perfect for the pregnant mama looking to keep her pregnancy glow. The correcting oil brightens the skin while reducing dark spots, and the stretch mark minimizer works to smooth her ever-growing belly.

$70

Allover roller

esker allover roller

This jade roller goes beyond your typical face roller and can be used anywhere on the body. It works to increase stimulation and reduce puffiness and is perfect for applying any oils to the face or body. Plus, it feels like a mini spa treatment.

$65

Kombucha making kit

farmsteady kombucha making kit

What could be a more perfect gift for the health-obsessed friend? This kombucha making kit comes with everything you need to brew your own homemade green tea kombucha. They'll think this is the tastiest gift ever.

$45

Laetitia lipstick

cupid & psyche laetitia

This red lipstick is perfect for your makeup enthusiast bestie who is looking to spruce up her life in quarantine. Crafted in the United States, these bee and vegan-friendly and cruelty-free lipsticks are created to flatter all complexions. Cupid and Psyche Beauty makes finding the perfect red lip way too easy!

$23

Jigsaw puzzle

inner piecec jigsaw puzzle

Mamas need to destress now more than ever during quarantine. This adorable jigsaw puzzle is perfect for the mama who needs a brain break! The 500-piece puzzle designed by artist Ray Oranges features an abstract gradient design that fits a standard frame when completed. Bonus: It's printed on recycled paper and the company donates $1 from every puzzle sold to youth mindfulness programs.

$30

Matilda's Bloombox

matilda's bloombox

If we have to be stuck inside, we might as well have some gorgeous florals to brighten up the space. Matilda's Bloombox locally sources blooms, delivers them to her door and provides simple tips on how to arrange it into a beautiful bouquet.

$39

'I Am Enough' bracelet

I Am Enough bracelet

Let this dainty bracelet serve as a constant reminder to your bestie that she is enough. She'll wear this on her wrist and read this daily oath to herself, "I Am Enough."

$35

Glow assorted teas

vahdam low assorted teas

This tea gift box set covers the entire spectrum of flavors from sweet to spicy. Individually packaged in beautiful tins, your gal pal will feel like a queen sipping her morning tea. Originally $40, this set is currently on sale for just $24. We'll take two, please.

$24

Find your voice journal

find your voice journal

Journaling is a great way to ease anxiety and will slow your bestie's racing mind before bed. This gift is perfect for first time journalists and includes prompts, daily quotes and coloring pages to help her unlock her potential and find her voice.

$22

Premium frother

shore magic premium frother

This gift is fitting for your latte-sipping bestie who can't go a day without her coffee. All she has to do is add two scoops of collagen to her favorite drink, and she'll have a perfectly foamy drink ready in seconds. Skipping the drive-thru line has never been so easy!

$25

Bath soak infusion kit

maude bath soak infusion kit

Say hello to hydration! She'll be feeling smooth and relaxed as ever after a long bath soaking in these salts. This vegan + cruelty-free set incorporates dead sea salt and dehydrated coconut milk powder for an ultra hydrating experience.

$32

Tiny Tags 'mama' necklace

Tiny Tags 'mama' necklace

It's a hard-earned title she answers to a hundred times per day. Whether she's new to the club or a seasoned professional, this delicate script 'mama' necklace is guaranteed to be a perfect fit.

$105

Superfood honey

Beekeeper's Naturals B.Powered honey

With a lack of sleep and jam-packed days, getting through the afternoon can be a real challenge. Send her a powerful pick-me-up in the form of a therapeutic blend of royal jelly, bee pollen, propolis and raw honey. It makes the ideal companion for tea, smoothies, yogurt or even on its on.

$17

Calming midnight mask with melatonin

Who doesn't deserve a reminder to pamper themself every once in awhile? Even better, this mask does all its work at night while you're sleeping with no extra effort needed. It's an amazing plant-powered antioxidant-packed mask that has melatonin, wild dandelion leaf and hyaluronic acid to rehydrate, repair and reset facial skin. It's so good, you might want to gift it to yourself. We won't tell, mama.

$68

We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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