4 Behavior Problems in Children You Shouldn't Ignore

Upset boy sitting on the front step of his house

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Ignoring mild misbehavior is a legitimate parenting strategy. It shows your little one that their antics won’t get a reaction, which means they'll be less likely to repeat that behavior in the future. However, while you can selectively ignore some behaviors, others simply shouldn’t be ignored. Without appropriate intervention, they can turn into much larger problems down the road. Keep a lookout for some of these small-but-significant behavioral issues that should be corrected ASAP.

1. Exaggerating the Truth

At first, they’re little exaggerations—for example, your child tells a friend they can run a mile in four minutes or assures grandma that they ate all of their vegetables when they hardly touched a single pea. These little white lies are not harmful, but they’re not exactly the facts.

What’s the problem? When kids gets used to making themselves look slightly better in the eyes of another person, lying becomes automatic. Eventually, the lying can become much worse, and it might eventually cause big problems at home and at school.

In deciding how to address lying behavior in your child, it's important to consider their age. A very young child may not fully understand the difference between dishonest and honest statements.

Between ages two and four, a child doesn’t have much of an idea as to where the truth ends and a lie begins, nor do they truly understand the difference between wishes and reality.

When they tell you that they played on the swings at the playground all night long, remember that they might believe that they did! Don’t punish them for lying, but gently set them straight. Remind your child that they went to the playground last weekend, not last night when they were snuggled up in bed.

As your child gets older (around age four), start explaining what lying is, and help them understand why it’s bad. Praise your child for being honest and encourage them to tell the truth, even when it might get them in trouble. Hearing the story of the boy who cried wolf might help your child realize why exaggeration can be more detrimental than they realize.

2. Selective Hearing

It’s more than annoying when you know your child hears you, but is pretending that they can’t. It can become a problem because your child may start tuning you out all the time. If they know you’ll keep reminding them over and over, they’ll have little incentive to listen the first time you speak.

It’s a child's way of taking back a little bit of power, and, if left unchecked, could lead to your little one becoming increasingly defiant. So it’s important that your child learns to listen the first time you give instructions. 

When you’re ready to give a direction, walk over to your child. Place your hand on their shoulder, and tell them what they need to do. Have them look at you, and respond affirmatively. If they don’t do what you’ve asked, follow through with a consequence. Eventually, they’ll realize that selective hearing doesn’t work.

3. Throwing Objects

It’s exciting for your child to learn how to throw; after all, they don’t master the skill until at least 18 months old (and some not until much later). Naturally, kids are going to want to throw objects, and see the effects of the fascinating phenomenon we know as gravity.

When it’s just a matter of throwing a piece of food here and there, it’s not a big deal. However, if not corrected, your child might graduate to throwing items that can break windows or other objects that hurt someone. You don’t need to stop them from throwing objects entirely, but rather focus on teaching them what they can throw and where it’s OK for them to throw it.

Stock up on foam balls that won’t cause indoor accidents, and teach your child how to play throwing games with bean bags. The point is to teach appropriate throwing while discouraging aggressive throwing.

4. Interrupting

In your child’s mind, the thing they need to tell you is the most important thing in the world—they don’t realize that other people might have needs that are as important as theirs. So, even if you’ve told your little one over and over that they are supposed to wait until a natural pause in the conversation and politely say, “Excuse me,” they might not always remember that in the moment.

To work on discouraging interruptions, create signals that your child will recognize. If, for example, you put your hand on their shoulder, it can indicate that you realize that they need you, and you’ll be with them soon.

Raising one or two fingers means that you’ll be with them in one or two minutes. Denote a signal to remind them to interrupt politely, such as nodding your head. When your child recognizes these signals and waits the appropriate amount of time to allow you to finish your conversation or task, praise them. The positive reinforcement will go a long way the next time they need to interrupt you.

During this learning period, you should have reasonable goals for your child’s age. Don’t expect a three- or four-year-old to be able to wait more than a couple of minutes for your attention. As your child grows, you can lengthen the amount of time you make them wait before you respond to their interruption.

A Word From Verywell

Ignoring certain behaviors can be the most appropriate response. Some children respond to any type of attention, even negative attention. By ignoring the attention-seeking behavior, you show your child obnoxious behavior, whining, and temper tantrums won’t be effective.

For behaviors that aren’t appropriate to ignore, follow through with consistent discipline each and every time. Sometimes, behavior problems get a little worse before they get better. But with consistent intervention, they’ll subside over time.

If you can, get all your child’s caregivers on the same page. When parents, grandparents, childcare providers, and teachers use the same language and interventions, kids learn faster.

By Amy Morin, LCSW
Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a psychotherapist, an international bestselling author of books on mental strength and host of The Verywell Mind Podcast. She delivered one of the most popular TEDx talks of all time.