Parenting would be so much easier if we could prevent misbehavior from even starting. Turns out, we can. Here’s one sure way to prevent misbehavior in children.
Do you ever get those days when it feels like your kids didn’t act up? Every day, you’re consoling another tantrum or dealing with whining.
Well, I learned there was one thing we could do to avoid most of these outbursts—and it wasn’t just waiting until “it gets better.”
By making changes, we can reduce and even prevent misbehavior in children.
One sure way to prevent misbehavior in children
And it all starts with this:
Meet their needs.
By taking care of our children’s needs, we ensure they’re able to behave, learn and function.
Here are a few common culprits:
- Hunger: Could your child be hungry? When was the last time she had something to eat?
- Fatigue: Did she get enough sleep at night or during nap time? Has she had a long day?
- Attention: Have you spent enough time with her, especially one-on-one?
- Emotions: Could she be going through difficult feelings she’s not able to express?
- Wellness: Is she feeling sick or coming down with a cold?
We expect a lot out of our kids. We want them to show empathy towards others instead of yelling or hitting, to focus at school, or clean up after themselves at home.
Problem is, kids have limited resources. They can only behave so much before they feel depleted. Everyday challenges are hard enough—imagine going through them when we don’t meet their basic needs.
Let’s say your child was playing at the park with a little boy. She gets frustrated when he takes the ball away from her. In retaliation, she pushes him, causing him to cry.
You encourage her to learn empathy and understand why the boy is crying, but she isn’t able to show any empathy when she feels overtired from skipping a nap. She feels too tired and grumpy to think about how others might feel.
How to meet your child’s needs
This isn’t about bending to your child’s every demand, though. When it’s 30 minutes away from dinnertime and she wants a snack, she can benefit from waiting for dinner.
Instead, it’s about alerting yourself to potential culprits that could contribute to her misbehavior.
Many people misunderstand routines as strict schedules they can’t divert from. I see routines instead as “pillars” that mark your day, such as eating and sleeping. Stick to the same meal and nap times, then revolve the rest of your activities around these pillars.
By using routines, you don’t have to try to remember when your child last had a snack. That’s because you know she eats at 9am every day. You’re less likely to skip naps when you usually go home from an outing at 12pm.
Children also thrive with predictability and routine. They don’t like not knowing what’s next, or feeling anxious about potential chaos and change.
In an ironic twist, the consistency of a routine actually allows for more flexibility. Yup—the more you follow a routine, the more your child will be willing to go with the flow.
After all, your child has been following the same routine at home for weeks and months. She sees any changes—a vacation, a whole day at the beach—as a thrill, not a threat to normalcy. She can even mimic the routine she’s grown used to away from home.
Routines ensure you’re meeting her basic needs with the consistency she craves.
Ask yourself why your child is misbehaving
It’s too easy to react when our kids misbehave. This morning, my six-year-old threw a surprise tantrum because he wasn’t the first to wake up.
I felt frustrated and impatient. But I had to ask myself why he could be behaving this way.
My first guess was he had a bad dream, or didn’t sleep well. He may have also been adjusting to his first week at school.
By asking ourselves why our kids behave the way they do, we can pinpoint any needs we can meet. If it’s fatigue, we can adjust an earlier bedtime. If it’s adapting to new changes, we can spend one-on-one time talking about it.
The biggest benefit of asking why? It forces you to be a detective and dig around for a reason instead of reacting out of anger. You become more empathetic to her needs instead of frustrated or withdrawn.
Acknowledge the need before disciplining
When kids misbehave, we tend to focus on the actual behavior rather than what led up to it. We think a child is throwing a tantrum because she didn’t get a turn to kick the ball. Or we stop digging at the first level: We think she’s also upset because it happens to be her favorite ball.
But dig deeper and see if the reasons could stem even farther than that. Could she be throwing a tantrum because she didn’t eat much at lunch, or her tummy feels bad?
By finding potential needs we haven’t met, we can acknowledge them first before disciplining. For instance, you can tell your child, “You must be hungry, which might be making you feel bad and cry.”
You can even take it a step further and provide her with what she needs. You can say, “After you calm down, maybe we can grab a light snack.
It’s pretty rare for kids to act up “for no reason,” and one of the many times they misbehave is because we haven’t met their needs.
You can reduce and prevent outbursts by meeting your child’s needs ahead of time. Establish routines to ensure she’s taken care of. Ask yourself why she’s behaving this way so you can discover the real reasons behind it. And once you do, acknowledge the void and even provide her with what she’s looking for.
By meeting our children’s needs, we can prevent misbehavior—with something as simple as a good night’s sleep or a snack to quiet the tummy.
5-Day Parenting Challenge
Looking for actionable steps and quick wins in parenting? The Better Parenting 5-Day Challenge is for parents who know they want to improve but need that little nudge and supportive guidance to do so.
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Get more tips:
- Are You Balancing Your Children’s Needs Fairly?
- 7 Techniques to Discipline Children
- Why Parents Really Need to Stop Hovering