Common Child Behavior Problems and Their Solutions

Father lecturing daughter
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Whether you're raising an energetic child or you're dealing with a strong-willed one, 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.

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 they tell the truth—especially when the truth could get them 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."

Defiance

Whether your child ignores you when you tell them to pick up their toys or says "No!" when you tell them to stop banging a 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 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

Too Much Screen Time

Another common child behavior problem is resisting screen-time limits. Whether your child screams when you tell them to shut off the TV or plays a game on your phone whenever you're not looking, too much screen time 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 periodic, family-wide digital detox to ensure that everyone is able to function without their devices.

Food-Related Problems

You may be dealing with a picky eater. Or perhaps your child claims to be hungry every 10 minutes, or sneaks food during times when it is not allowed. Food-related behaviors can lead to power struggles and body image issues, so it's important to handle them carefully.

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 them when they're sad or entertain them when they're 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. Instead of trying to please everyone at every meal, serve one balanced meal that is healthy for everyone, and set limits on snacking.

Disrespectful Behavior

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

If your child's intent is to get your attention, ignoring can be the best course of action. Show your child that sticking their tongue out at you doesn't result in the reaction they're 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 them to time-out.

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 teachers 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 positive attention when they stop whining.

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

Impulsive Behavior

Young children tend to be 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 out unkind statements that hurt people's feelings.

There are many things you can do to teach your child impulse control skills. One simple way to reduce impulsive behavior is by praising your child each time they think before they act or speak. 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 emotions will help your child control behavior too.

Bedtime Behavior Problems

Whether your child refuses to stay in bed or he insists on sleeping with you, bedtime challenges are common. Without appropriate intervention, your child may become sleep-deprived.

Lack of sleep has been linked to increased behavior problems in young children. And sleep deprivation can lead to physical health issues, as well.

Establish 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 their room a dozen times in an hour, keep doing it. Eventually, their bedtime behavior will improve.

Aggression

Your child's aggressive behavior might mean throwing a math book when they're frustrated with homework. Or it could lead to outright punching a sibling when they're mad about some other situation.

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

Aggressive behavior is normal for toddlers and preschoolers. But aggression should decrease over time as your child grows and 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 they have hurt someone. If aggression doesn't get better over time, seek professional help.

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 children that stomping, screaming, or throwing themselves to the floor won't get them what they want. It's also important to show them better and more effective ways to express their needs and get those 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 at age eight or 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 their education and 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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