Common Child Behavior Problems and Their Solutions

Discipline Strategies to Change Your Child's Behavior

Here's how to address the most common behavior problems.
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Whether you're raising an energetic daughter or you're dealing with a strong-willed son, there are certain child behavior problems that are common at one point or another. The way you respond to these behavior problems play a major role in how likely your child is to repeat them in the future. 

1. Lying

There are three main reasons kids lie; to get attention, to avoid getting in trouble, and to feel better about themselves. Distinguishing the reason for the lie can help you determine the best course of action.

When you catch your child in a lie, ask, "Is that what really happened or what you wish would have happened?" Give your child an extra consequence for lying.

Emphasize the importance of honesty by creating a household rule that says, "Tell the truth."

Praise your child when she tells the truth—especially when the truth could get her in trouble. Say something like, "I'm so proud of you for being honest about eating that cupcake after I said no. I'm still going to take away your video games today but because you told the truth you won't lose your game for tomorrow too."

2. Defiance

Whether your child ignores you when you tell her to pick up her toys or says, "No!" when you tell her to stop banging her toy on the floor, defiance is difficult behavior to address. But, it’s normal for kids to test limits at one time or another.

When your child is defiant, offer a single if...then warning. Say, "If you don't pick up your toys right now, then you won't be able to go watch TV tonight."

If your child doesn't comply after the warning, follow through with a consequence. With consistency, your child will learn to listen the first time you speak

3. Too Much Screen Time

Another common child behavior problem is constantly trying to be connected to digital devices. Whether your child screams when you tell her to shut off the TV or she plays a game on your phone whenever you're not looking, too much screen isn't healthy

Establish clear rules for screen time. If your child becomes too dependent on electronics for entertainment, dial back the screen time even more.

Take away electronics when your child breaks the rules and be a healthy role model. Consider establishing a family-wide digital detox every once in a while to ensure that everyone is able to function without their devices. 

4. Food-Related Problems

Whether you’ve got a picky eater on your hands or your child claims to be hungry every 10 minutes, food-related issues can lead to power struggles if you’re not careful.

Proactively work to help your children develop a healthy attitude about food. Make it clear that food is meant to fuel your child's body, not to comfort him when he's sad or entertain him when he's bored.

Avoid saying things like, "vegetables are healthy." Kids tend to think healthy food tastes bad. Instead, talk about how delicious vegetables and other nutritious foods are.

And don't feel like you need to become a short-order cook to keep everyone happy at meal times. Serve one meal healthy for everyone and set limits on snacking. If your child is hungry, he'll eat what you serve.

5. Disrespectful Behavior

Name calling, throwing things, and mocking you are just a few of the common behavior problems that show disrespect. If it’s not addressed appropriately, disrespectful behavior is likely to get worse with time.

If your child's intent is get your attention, ignoring can be the best course of action. Make it clear that sticking her tongue out at you from the across the room isn't going to get the reaction she's looking for.

It's important to give immediate consequences for most disrespectful behaviors, however. If your child calls you a name, for example, take away a privilege or send him to time-out

6. Whining

Whining can be a bad habit—especially if it helps your child get what he wants. But it's important to curb whining before it becomes an even bigger problem.

After all, other kids and your child's teacher aren't going to appreciate a whiner. 

A good first course of action is ignoring. Show your child that whining won't get you to change your mind. Give her positive attention when she stops whining. 

Additionally, teach your child more appropriate ways to deal with uncomfortable emotions, like disappointment. Show her that saying, "I'm sad we can't go to the playground today," will get her much better results than repeatedly whining about how unfair it is that you won't take her to play in a thunderstorm. 

7. Impulsive Behavior

While young children tend to be more physically impulsive so it's not unusual for a 4-year-old to hit. Older children are more likely to be verbally impulsive, meaning they may blurt things out that hurt people's feelings.

Fortunately, there are many things you can do to teach your child impulse control skills. One simple way you can reduce impulsive behavior is by praising your child each time she thinks before she acts or speaks. Say, "Great job using your words when you felt angry today," or "That was a good choice to walk away when you were mad." 

Teach anger management skills and self-discipline skills as well. Gaining control over her emotions will help your child feel more in control of her behavior. 

8. Bedtime Behavior Problems

Whether your child refuses to stay in bed or he insists on sleeping with you, bedtime behavior problems are common. Without appropriate intervention, your child may become sleep-deprived, which could lead to even more problems. 

A lack of sleep has been linked to increased behavior problems in young children. And, sleep-deprivation can also lead to physical health issues, like 

Establish some clear bedtime rules and create a healthy bedtime routine. Consistency is key to helping kids establish healthy sleep habits. So even if you have to return your child to his room a dozen times in an hour, keep doing it. Eventually, your child's bedtime behavior will improve. 

9. Aggression

Your child's aggressive behavior might range from throwing a math book when he's frustrated over his homework to outright punching his brother when he’s mad.

Some kids become aggressive because they don't know how to handle their feelings in a socially appropriate way. Others are perfectionists who meltdown every time things don't go the way they planned.

Aggressive behavior is normal for toddlers and preschoolers. But, aggression should be decreasing over time as your child gains new skills.

Give your child an immediate consequence for any act of aggression. Take away a privilege and use restitution to help your child make amends if he's hurt someone. If his aggression doesn't get better over time, seek professional help.

10. Temper Tantrums

Temper tantrums are most common in toddlers and preschoolers but they can extend into grade school if they aren't addressed swiftly.

Ignoring can be one of the best ways to handle tantrums. Teach your child that stomping, screaming, or throwing herself to the floor won't get her what she wants. It's also important to show her better and more effective ways to get her needs met. 

A Word From Verywell

Child behavior problems are best addressed with consistent discipline strategies. Keep in mind that it's normal for kids to regress once in a while.

Your child may revert back to baby talk when he's 8 or he might grow defiant again after months of compliance. Phases like this are normal and may be just a developmental process your child needs to go through.

But, if behavior problems aren't responding to your discipline strategies, or your child's behavior has started disrupting his education and his peer relationships, talk to your pediatrician. You'll want to rule out any underlying developmental issues, learning disabilities, or medical conditions. 

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