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 his antics won’t get a reaction, which means he’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.

Behavioral Issues in Kids That Should Be Corrected

Keep a lookout for some of these small-but-significant behavioral issues that should be corrected ASAP.

Exaggerating the Truth

At first, they’re little exaggerations—for example, telling a friend he can run a mile in four minutes or telling grandma that he ate all of his vegetables for dinner when he hardly touched a pea on his plate. These little white lies are not harmful, but they’re not exactly the facts.

What’s the problem? When your child gets used to making themself 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, he doesn’t have much of an idea as to where the truth ends and a lie begins, nor does he truly understand the difference between wishes and reality.

When he tells you that he played on the swings at the playground all night long, remember that he might believe that he did! Don’t punish him for lying, but gently set him straight by reminding him that he went to the swings last weekend, not last night when he was snuggled up in bed.

As your child gets older (around age four), start explaining what a lie is, and help him understand why it’s bad. Praise your child for being honest and encourage him to tell the truth, even when it might get him in trouble. A shared reading of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” might help him realize why exaggeration can be more detrimental than he realizes.

Having Selective Hearing

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

It’s his 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 to train your child 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 his shoulder, and tell him what he needs to do. Have him look at you, and respond affirmatively. If he doesn’t do what you’ve asked, follow through with a consequence. Eventually, he’ll realize that selective hearing doesn’t work.

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, he’s 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, he might graduate to throwing items that can break windows or other objects that hurt someone. You don’t need to stop him from throwing objects entirely, but rather focus on teaching him what he can throw and where’s it’s OK for him to throw it.

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

Interrupting Others

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

To continue to work on discouraging interruptions, work together to create signals that she’ll recognize. If, for example, you put your hand on her shoulder, it can indicate that you realize that she needs you, and you’ll be with her soon.

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

Keep in mind, though, during this learning period that you should have reasonable goals for your child’s age. When she’s around three or four years old, don’t expect her to be able to wait more than a couple of minutes for your attention. As she grows up, you can lengthen the amount of time you make her wait before you respond to her interruption.

When to Ignore Bad Behavior

Keep in mind that ignoring certain behaviors is the most appropriate response. Some children respond positively to any type of attention, even if negative attention. By ignoring the attention-seeking behavior, you show your child obnoxious behavior, whining, and temper tantrums won’t get your attention.

For behaviors that aren’t appropriate to ignore, follow through with a consistent discipline each and every time your child misbehaves. Remember that 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 both parents, grandparents, childcare providers, and teachers use the same language and interventions, kids learn faster.

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