As a parent, you must have often caught yourself asking such questions: "Why isn’t my 2-year-old as obedient as my neighbours?”
“Why does my child throw his toys around and start crying every time I get on a phone call?”
While every child is unique in many ways, most children exhibit certain behaviour which can be linked to common thought processes. As hard as it can get, your child’s upbringing doesn’t have to be a battle. The more you start understanding your baby’s behaviour, the merrier is the process of their growth!
We’re here to bring you up to speed with understanding certain facets of your child’s behaviour. This starts with understanding the intent and cause of their misbehaviour.To start off, we must understand that behaviour is relative and subjective to each individual person. Hence, each parent's reaction to a particular behaviour would vary. For instance, a child who refuses to pick up his toys may be considered mildly misbehaving by one parent but exhibiting unbearable behaviour to another.
As you might be aware, infants and toddlers react to the here and now. When children want something, they want it right then! Or they may scream, bite, kick or nag. They often cannot understand the long-term implications of their behaviour.\
There are 3 main interrelated factors often help shape children's behaviour. Let’s look at each of them:
First, we look at heredity or a child's temperament.
Temperament or a child's genetic make-up, explains why a person behaves in certain ways in response to stimuli. Emotionality, activity level and sociability seem related to the development of undesirable behaviour.
- Emotionality refers to your child’s response to events in their environment. The sight of a stranger or being spoken to by a stranger may upset one child but may not affect another.
- Activity level refers to the energy your child displays in vigorous movement and activity. An active child will find it more difficult to accept the physical boundaries set by parents and caregivers than an infant with low activity level.
- Sociability refers to your little one’s inclination for interaction with people. A very sociable child who craves attention all the time will more likely demand social contact that an infant who only demands for attention when he is hungry or wet.
This is perhaps the most crucial factor contributing to the likelihood of inappropriate behaviour.
Your work schedules, marital problems, and parenting styles may affect the degree, frequency and intensity of inappropriate behaviour. Behavioural problems have been a constant complain of working parents. This is because children constantly crave for the parent’s attention; since parents are their first set of friends. Insufficient time and inattention due to fatigue are the major contributing factors among working parents.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that you must put a break on your career. Carve out a certain amount of hours in day and devote it totally to your little one. Figure out a plan with your partner where at least one of you is spending time with your child at any given point in the day. And if none of this is feasible, make sure you leave your child with close relatives or friends, somewhere they can be attended to!
3. Role of learning and experience
Your child will learn to interact from the people and the surrounding environment.
The interaction between the main caregivers and the infant in the first few months of life often determines how they would react and interact with others around him in the following years. For example, if their nagging, crying or screaming results in getting a sweet, chances are their inappropriate behaviour will persist, evolving into different forms as the child grows.
When children misbehave, it is likely that there is an agenda for their inappropriate behaviour. There are four main objectives in misbehaviour, and keep in mind, that these are universal. Every child will exhibit such emotions, so you are not alone! They are:
- Attention seeking: sometimes children misbehave to attract attention.
- Revenge: children may seek revenge by being spiteful or doing harmful things.
- Power seeking: children will often challenge their parents to satisfy their desire for power and control.
- Helplessness: children who think of themselves as incompetent or unable to perform tasks often react with inappropriate behaviour. When children are overprotected, they are more likely to be easily discouraged and helpless.
But how does one deal with misbehaviour? When you boil it down, it isn’t really that complicated. The first step is always by learning to recognise the purpose of the inappropriate behaviour. This will help you understand why your child misbehaves, and hence manage them accordingly.
1. Recognise the misbehaviour by how you feel about it.
- Attention seeking makes you feel annoyed
- Power seeking makes you feel angry
- Revenge makes you feel hurt
- Helplessness makes you feel despondent.
2. Observe how you react to the misbehavior
- Attention seeking makes you remind, coax, nag and explain
- Power seeking makes you fight or give in
- Revenge makes you retaliate to get even, or even reason with the child.
- Helplessness makes you solve the problem yourself
3. Observe the consequences for the child who displays the misbehavior
- Attention seeking causes people to look at and speak to the child
- Power seeking causes people to stand over and supervise the child
- Revenge causes people to punish the child, or reason with them.
- Helplessness causes people to look after and protect the child
In the following scenarios, ask yourself how you feel as the parent, how you feel about your reaction and what the purpose of the child's inappropriate behaviour is.
Here are a few example situations for you to learn how to categorise behaviour:
Parent: “Wasn't that a lovely bath, Ayaan? Now you are clean and dry. Mummy/Daddy will put you on your bed for a while.”
(Toddler Vivaan comes along and punches Ayaan.)
Parent: “No, Vivaan! You mustn't hit your baby brother like that. You're a naughty boy.”
This scenario illustrates revenge.
Vivaan: “I can't find my power ranger!”
Parent: “It is in your toy box where you always keep it.”
Vivaan: “I've looked in there. It wasn't there.”
Parent: “Go and look again. It was there this morning.”
Vivaan: (Walking from the toy box) I still can't find it, Mummy/Daddy.
Parent: “For goodness sake!”
(goes to the box)
“Here it is, just where I've said it'll be. Why is it that no one can find anything around here except me?”
This scenario illustrates helplessness.
Parent: “Come on, Vivaan. It's time to put away your toys now.”
“Vivaan, put your toys away please.”
“Vivaan, I will smack you if you don't put away your toys. Come on, I'll help. There, I've put the truck in the box. In it goes…”
This scenario illustrates power seeking.
Parent/ Mother: “I'll just ring Aunt Shivani and arrange to go shopping with her."
(dials the phone).
“Hello? Oh Shivani, its Aditi here, how about going for a shopping trip this week?”
(Son starts to cry and bang his toys.)
“Hold on a minute, Aditi.”
(puts aside the phone)
“Stop it, Vivaan! That's being naughty. Mummy's on the phone.”
(puts down the phone)
“Here's your power ranger.”
(Returns to phone)
“I'm sorry, Shivani. Vivaan always does that when I'm on the phone.”
(Noise starts again)
“Oh dear, he broke his toy. Shivani, can I ring you back when he's asleep? Bye.”
This scenario illustrates attention seeking.
It is always important, when considering misbehaviour, to understand the factors involved. Knowing why your child exhibits inappropriate behaviour and what his objectives are will help you make better decisions about what to do when you encounter these behaviours. It is this simple understanding of human nature that will make you a pro when it comes to handling your little one’s “bad behaviour.”