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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.

By its very nature, motherhood requires some lifestyle adjustments: Instead of staying up late with friends, you get up early for snuggles with your baby. Instead of spontaneous date nights with your honey, you take afternoon family strolls with your little love. Instead of running out of the house with just your keys and phone, you only leave with a fully loaded diaper bag.

For breastfeeding or pumping mamas, there is an additional layer of consideration around when, how and how much your baby will eat. Thankfully, when it comes to effective solutions for nursing or bottle-feeding your baby, Dr. Brown's puts the considerations of mamas and their babies first with products that help with every step of the process—from comfortably adjusting to nursing your newborn to introducing a bottle to efficiently pumping.

With countless hours spent breastfeeding, pumping and bottle-feeding, the editors at Motherly know the secret to success is having dependable supplies that can help you feed your baby in a way that matches lifestyle.

Here are 9 breastfeeding and pumping products to help you no matter what the day holds.

Customflow™ Double Electric Breast Pump

Dr. Brown's electric pump

For efficient, productive pumping sessions, a double electric breast pump will help you get the job done as quickly as possible. Quiet for nighttime pumping sessions and compact for bringing along to work, this double pump puts you in control with fully adjustable settings.

$159.99

Hands-Free Pumping Bra

Dr. Brown''s hands free pumping bra

Especially in the early days, feeding your baby can feel like a pretty consuming task. A hands-free pumping bra will help you reclaim some of your precious time while pumping—and all mamas will know just how valuable more time can be!

$29.99

Manual Breast Pump with SoftShape™ Silicone Shield

Dr. Brown's manual breast pump

If you live a life that sometimes takes you away from electrical outlets (that's most of us!), then you'll absolutely want a manual breast pump in your arsenal. With two pumping modes to promote efficient milk expression and a comfort-fitted shield, a manual pump is simply the most convenient pump to take along and use. Although it may not get as much glory as an electric pump, we really appreciate how quick and easy this manual pump is to use—and how liberating it is not to stress about finding a power supply.

$29.99

Nipple Shields and Sterilization Case

Dr. Brown's nipple shields

There is a bit of a learning curve to breastfeeding—for both mamas and babies. Thankfully, even if there are some physical challenges (like inverted nipples or a baby's tongue tie) or nursing doesn't click right away, silicone nipple shields can be a huge help. With a convenient carry case that can be sterilized in the microwave, you don't have to worry about germs or bacteria either. 🙌

$9.99

Silicone One-Piece Breast Pump

Dr. Brown's silicone pump

When you are feeding your baby on one breast, the other can still experience milk letdown—which means it's a golden opportunity to save some additional milk. With a silent, hands-free silicone pump, you can easily collect milk while nursing.

$14.99

Breast to Bottle Pump & Store Feeding Set

After a lifetime of nursing from the breast, introducing a bottle can be a bit of a strange experience for babies. Dr. Brown's Options+™ and slow flow bottle nipples were designed with this in mind to make the introduction to bottles smooth and pleasant for parents and babies. As a set that seamlessly works together from pumping to storing milk to bottle feeding, you don't have to stress about having everything you need to keep your baby fed and happy either.

$24.99

Washable Breast Pads

washable breast pads

Mamas' bodies are amazingly made to help breast milk flow when it's in demand—but occasionally also at other times. Especially as your supply is establishing or your breasts are fuller as the length between feeding sessions increase, it's helpful to use washable nursing pads to prevent breast milk from leaking through your bra.

$8.99

Breast Milk Storage Bags

Dr. Brown's milk storage bags

The essential for mamas who do any pumping, breast milk storage bags allow you to easily and safely seal expressed milk in the refrigerator or freezer. Dr. Brown's™ Breast Milk Storage Bags take it even further with extra thick walls that block out scents from other food items and feature an ultra secure lock to prevent leaking.

$7.99


Watch one mama's review of the new Dr. Brown's breastfeeding line here:

This article was sponsored by Dr. Brown's. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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