10 Common Challenging Behaviors In Children And What They Really Mean

Children can be so unpredictable in their behaviors. With factors including learning how to emotionally regulate, effectively communicate, and conducting socially appropriate interactions with their peers, it can feel like a non-stop struggle of trying to get those behavioral quirks under wraps.

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There are behavioral and emotional disabilities that affect how a child behaves, such as; conduct, oppositional defiance, autism spectrum, sensory processing, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorders.  A study shows parental self-efficacy and mental health can also play a factor in how a child behaves. However, most often these annoying or embarrassing behaviors from your child are actually normal, depending on the age and frequency, and can be a way of communicating something else.

10 Tantrums

Whining, screaming, crying, kicking, hitting, yelling, and thrashing bodies. No, this isn't a description out of a horror movie but an all too familiar challenging occurrence common in young children... the dreaded temper tantrums.

Temper tantrums can begin in children as young as 12-18 months old, generally peaking in 'terrible twos', then usually become less intense and frequent around 4 years of age. These emotional outbursts are common during this period of the child's development when they gain a sense of self, independent from their parents. Power struggles of trying to assert control over their environment can cause feelings of anger and frustration. Tantrums can also occur when a child is feeling tired, uncomfortable, hungry, or sick.

9 Not Sharing

Children, especially young ones, sometimes struggle with their ability to share objects like toys, with others. Even though human morality, empathy, and compassion seem like a natural understanding to most adults, children don't typically begin to fully understand this prosocial behavior until preschool age.

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According to a study called the development of sharing in toddlers in relation to ownership and understanding; children begin to learn affiliative sharing within their first year of life through adult interactions. Yet it's not until 18-24 months of age where they start to comprehend the idea of an object 'belonging' to them and language denoting ownership. However, as they grow older and practice more of this prosocial behavior, sharing becomes more spontaneous, frequent, and autonomous.

8 Over-The-Top Silliness

Children are known for their silliness, over excitement, and being extraordinarily loud. However, it can be difficult to determine if your child is just a ball of continuous energy or if the over-the-top silliness actually means something else.

With self-control being a life long skill most people work on, being able to contain and de-escalate excitement can be difficult for just about any kid. However, over-the-top silliness can indicate other underlining issues potentially caused by sensory processing and behavioral disorders. Children can act silly (particularly in academic or social settings) when they are struggling with learning disabilities such as phonological and language processing, memory and visual-spatial difficulties, slower processing speeds, and executive functioning problems.

7 Impatience

Patience, which is the ability to accept or tolerate delay without becoming frustrated or upset, is self-control that most of us at times struggle with. However, it seems that children seem to be more impatient especially when they don't understand the purpose behind delayed gratification.

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The complicated thing about patience is that it's a skill that there is no set age of when it can be developed, as it is something that must be practiced and modeled by a parent, as well. In the 1960s, there was a well-known psychological study called 'The Marshmallow Experiment' that paved the way into realizing the importance of teaching children why learning patience is so important. Further studies have been conducted, and we know other factors such as rational-decision making processes that consider environmental reliability, cognitive-attentional processes, social competences, and stress tolerances can play a part in learning this skill.

6 Weepy Or Over-Sensitive

Some children are just a bit more sensitive, as a quirky trait of their personality. Sensitive children, if fostered properly, can become empathetic and nurturing adults. However, sometimes children become weepy or overly sensitive, which can be out of character. Yet it's also important to consider that depending on the age, tears can stem from learning how to handle emotions, frustrations, or self-control through emotional regulation.

However, children who are acting out of character can indicate other issues that they can't quite put into words. Kids who are not feeling well, who are tired, hungry, or are fearful and anxious can be weepy. If these concerns persist, it may be wise to speak to your child's pediatrician to rule out other possibilities.

5 Biting

It's common, especially in boys, for toddlers to go through a biting phase. As unpleasant and worrisome as it is, most children outgrow this behavior when their expressive speech and language improves and they start to understand the concept of cause-and-effect.

Toddlers might display biting behavior for numerous reasons; teething, looking for attention or a reaction, and as a way to express how they are feeling (like frustration or anger). Even though biting is common in toddlers, it's a behavior that needs to be consistently addressed. If excessive biting continues past 3-4 years of age, and it seems to be getting worse rather than better, you may have to seek additional help to curb the hostile behavior.

4 Hitting Others

Young children are prone to display what appears to be aggressive behavior, due to emotional and behavioral development of learning how to handle strong emotions of being overwhelmed, frustrated or angry. This is typically caused by their inability to verbally communicate and use effective language and coping skills, which begins to lessen between 2-5 years of age. Older children who struggle with the self-control of becoming physically aggressive can indicate problems of behavioral, emotional, or learning disabilities that provoke feelings of anxiety, fear, anger, and frustration.

It's expected that while children mature, they learn to use alternative methods of expressing themselves rather than hitting. However, aggressive behavior in children can stem from whether they've experienced or witnessed aggression by a parental figure, caretaker, or socioeconomic influence. Parental inhibitory control, parental characteristics and parenting styles influence neurodevelopment pathways and psychodynamic factors of what a child perceives as acceptable behavior.

3 Whining

Researchers say that the peak phase of children whining is between 2-4 years of age. According to Dr. Jessica Michaelson, life and career coach, she claims children whine as a way of seeking attention and signal a distress when they are tired and require additional assistance. In fact, an evolutionary psychological study showed that we are biologically hard-wired to react and pay attention to high-pitched vocal qualities, which is why it's so difficult to tune out or ignore the whining.

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Children may whine to indicate they need adult help or resources, connection, positivity, help expressing feelings, sensitive or touchy temperament, or when they are conditioned by variable-ratio reinforcement (in other words, they know whining gets them what they want.)

2 Lying

There are many reasons why children lie, according to the Child Mind Institute. A child's lie could be motivated by getting something they want, avoid getting in trouble, averting doing tasks, have a lack of self-confidence, evade focus on themselves, impulsivity, or poor executive functioning. Or sometimes what comes off as a fib, may in fact be caused by simply not remembering, and the child needs you to help to supplement memories.

However, studies report social, cognitive, and morality factors play an important part in why a child lies. The child's moral evaluation of perceiving if lying would serve an intended purpose for self, or if reasoning and emotions influence moral judgment, to tell the truth to a third party also depends on upbringing and roots.

1 Not Listening

Children are typically not expert listeners. Regardless if some are better listeners than others, this is a common challenging behavior that pretty well all parents can relate to. There are many expected reasons as to why a child might not listen for instance: their focus is elsewhere, they didn't comprehend because too much was said, the speaker was preoccupied doing something else while relaying the message, or they are receiving criticism or orders without the speaker following through on words with actions. Yet, at times, a child not listening could be caused by defiance or asserting counter-will.

However, not all children who don't listen should be put in the same box as to why kids have a hard time listening. Inattention can be attributed to underlying concerns such as ADHD, emotional distractions, working memory, auditory processing, or a child who struggles with cognitive sequencing abilities. Early intervention of these attributions has been proven in neurotherapeutics to avoid future long-term consequences academically and socially.

NEXT: 10 Tips For Dealing With An Anxious Child

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