7 Ways to Address Obnoxious Behavior in a Child

Child making faces
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Whether your child is burping loudly at the dinner table or poking their sibling in the arm just to annoy them, obnoxious behavior can be downright irritating. But most kids experiment with obnoxious behavior at one time or another.

"Obnoxious" means behavior that is extremely unpleasant, offensive, or distasteful. As a parent, you might feel annoyed or irritated by your child's behavior. However, before jumping into these strategies, ask yourself:

  • Is my child's behavior truly obnoxious or am I feeling triggered in some way by it?
  • Is this a developmentally appropriate behavior? Does it really need to be addressed?

Kids are immature and they do things that appear obnoxious to our more mature adult brain. If you do feel you need to address a behavior, there are effective strategies to try.

Prevent Obnoxious Behavior Before It Starts

Proactively teach your child skills that will prevent them from exhibiting disruptive behavior. Teach empathy so they can understand how their rude behavior affects those around them. Pause when you're reading books to ask questions about how a character's behavior affected the other people in the story.

Teach healthy ways to deal with uncomfortable feelings. Show kids how to cope with anxiety, fear, loneliness, or rejection without acting out.

Praise Good Behavior

Kids often misbehave as a means to get attention. Giving your child attention for behaving can prevent them from acting out. Rather than scolding your child for interrupting every time they butt into the conversation, pause when you're talking to a friend and say, "Thank you for playing so quietly."

Praising good behavior can encourage your child to keep up the good work. It shows that the best way to get attention is to follow the rules.

Ignore Behavior That Isn’t Harmful

If your child’s obnoxious behavior is purely attention-seeking—like making loud noises repeatedly at the dinner table—ignore it. Selective ignoring can ensure that your child’s misbehavior isn’t effective in getting them the attention they are trying to attract.

Ignoring will only work if everyone in the family is able to be on board. If a sibling is likely to cover their ears and repeatedly yell “Stop!”, their reaction will only reinforce to your child that obnoxious behavior is effective in getting a reaction out of someone.

It's important that everyone is on board and able to ignore the obnoxious behavior. If not, you might need to try a different strategy.

Point Out Obnoxious Behavior

If your child doesn’t recognize the type of behavior that is likely to annoy others, point out obnoxious behavior when it occurs. If your child is showing off when you have visitors, they may think they are entertaining people. Or, if they are not sure how to invite other children to play with them, they may act out in an attempt to get their peers' attention.

If you’re in private, simply say, “Please stop. Those loud noises are annoying" or even "Those noises hurt my ears." A little reminder may be all you need.

If it’s a public situation, call your child to the side and privately explain that their behavior is inappropriate. Say something like, "I know you want the other kids to play with you. But blocking them from running across the bridge is annoying them. Ask them if you can play with them rather than interrupting the game they're already playing."

Create a code word or signal so you can point out obnoxious behavior in public without embarrassing your child. Saying, "Nice shoes" or "Be kind" might remind them to change their behavior.

Offer a Warning

A when... then statement is an effective way to remind your child to make better choices. Say something like, "When you choose to stop banging that toy on the floor, then you will get more play time" or "If you choose to keep banging, then you will need to take some time away from the activity." Only offer one warning and be prepared to follow through with a consequence.

Give a Consequence

If your child doesn’t heed your warning, it may be necessary to follow through with a negative consequence. Time-out is usually an effective consequence. Remove your child from the situation and stop giving them any attention.

If obnoxious behavior turns aggressive, or if a time-out isn’t an option, taking away a privilege can help your child learn.

Problem-Solve for the Future

If the obnoxious behavior is an ongoing problem for your child, it’s important to problem-solve the issue together, before you enter into a situation where disruptive behavior is likely to occur—like in the car or when visiting Grandma.

You might decide to pack an activity for a car ride, like a coloring book and crayons. Or, you might offer a little reward for good behavior. Say something like, "If you follow the rules at Grandma's house today we'll stop and play at the playground on the drive home."

Talk about your expectations up front. Discuss what your child can do if they are bored or how they can get attention in a more positive manner.

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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.