Bad Behavior - Is it just a Phase?

A typical issue that parents face is dealing with their children's behaviors. Let's say you are a parent of a five year old child that has just started school. She was a polite, considerate, and helpful young lady at home and in front of her teachers. However, her behavior has become inappropriate at home as it includes talking back, swearing, and discussing sex in general terms. She learned these behaviors from other children at her school.

I am not sure how I should teach her to make the right choices about right vs. wrong. She has already skipped school at the urging of her 5 year old friend. How can I help her when she is out of my supervision at school? How do I instruct to make the right decision on her own?

That is a great question. First we should discuss the fundamentals regarding this issue.

Kids, like you and me, are doing their best to succeed in life. So their behaviors are their attempts to get good results for themselves, as they themselves would define them. Those "good results" might be to satisfy basic urges such as hunger and warmth, they might be to get approval and love - from their parents, or from their friends, or they might be simply to have fun and excitement.

They will exhibit the behavior they believe will get them the need they have at that time.

Of course, not all behaviors are successful - and that is the whole learning process. Constantly through life we are experimenting with behaviors to find the ones that work best for us. In choosing what behaviors to experiment with, we take input from past experiences, from what we have been told, and from what we have seen others do (in real life and on TV) and we combine this with the skills, abilities, and personality that we have. From all of this we get a range of possible behaviors, and out of those we pick what we hope will serve us best.

After trial and error we will find the behaviors that meet our needs. We will use these behaviors to get what we want. The more we are successful with a certain behavior, the more we engage in that behavior.

Back to your 5 year old daughter. Her behavior signals that she is in the process of trial and error. She is in a new situation at school and this has expanded her world. She is not sure how to react and is excited and nervous at the same time. She is testing different behaviors to determine which behaviors will yield a successful result.

Your daughter will most likely try a range of behaviors. Many of which will not occur ever again as they didn't work. Some behaviors will become a part of her usual behavior. Which behaviors will your daughter stick to? It really depends on the results of each experience. She is at an age where having your approval and love is very important to her. She needs to see your reaction to her behaviors. Outside reactions from others also play a role. For example, punishments and rewards can be a big influence on her behavior. She will seek the approval of you, her teachers, and her friends.

How much influence do you, as a parent, have over this? At this age, quite a bit. When they are teenagers, a whole lot less. Your influence is through two means.

1. How you respond emotionally to her behaviors. Do you approve or disapprove of her behaviors?

2. How you control her external environment. You have the power to choose her school, neighbors, and people she will be in contact with. You are the one who can give her punishments and rewards.

Weaving what he discussed together and looking at this strategically, you need to answer the following questions:

Do you think your daughter is just experimenting with her behaviors and that it will pass? If you do, then don't worry about it at all as she will move on to better behavior. Kids tend to do mischievous things at this age and still end up to be productive adults.

Another item to consider is the intensity of reaction you demonstrate to bad behavior. Take swearing for example. If you become exasperated every time she swears, she may view swearing as an adventure because she wants to see you get red with anger.

If you feel as if her bad behavior is escalating too much then you need to do something to combat it.

When this happens you will need to rely on your opinion of the situation. Are you doing all the things you can as a parent? Make sure that you are a positive role model. Remember, you have a significant influence on her.

Next, check out the school and your neighborhood. How have the children who grew up in this neighborhood fared when they grew up? Do they become productive adults or do most of the kids spend time in juvenile detention for most of their teenage years?

Take the time to talk with parents and teachers at school. Each school has a culture and perhaps your daughter is trying to fit into this culture. How concerned are the teachers? Does the behavior of most kids at the school improve as they grow up out their phases?

Unfortunately, you can't watch over every influence in your child's life. You also can't be 100% sure that your daughter will learn right from wrong. However, you can improve the odds of this. Your influence as a parent is great and you should be a positive role model for your child.

Need more parenting help for your kids? Get a hold of Dr. Noel Swanson's parenting newsletter. It's free and highly recommended. His book, The GOOD CHILD Guide, is also very highly recommended. You can get it from his website here:

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