Understanding Child Behavior: Do Kids Really Misbehave For Attention?

Understanding Child Behavior

Remember that ability you used to have to distinguish (most of the time) a wet diaper cry from a hungry cry from an “I’m in pain” cry? It’s not that different.

You will make the wrong call sometimes, but that’s okay. You allow yourself to learn and adjust, rather than trying to dogmatically apply to the bitter end some method a person you don’t know found to work best for their own kids.  

As awesome as it would be if every kid followed the same playbook and could be skillfully raised by parents all doing the same thing, it just doesn’t work that way.

When it comes to many of those timeless dilemmas parents have to face about screen time, praise, daycare, sleep training, and, yes, discipline, the best advice science often has to offer is, “It depends.” Of course, there is some important general evidence on many of these topics worth knowing, but the broader principles often need to be adjusted and customized, and this requires parents seeing themselves a bit more like scientists and a bit less like converts to a particular religion.

Read 4 Signs of Mental Health Problems in Children

When it comes to discipline, I personally like to assume kids can do things until proven otherwise. Motivation can go a long way, and techniques like occasional time-outs that help control how and when you pay attention to your child are not ones, in my view, to categorically exclude from your toolbox out of hand.

Yet for many kids, and especially those who really struggle with self-regulation, attention-seeking really is not the primary driver of challenging child behavior, and all the motivation in the world will not be enough to get them to change course. For these folks, engagement, empathy, and coaching are needed instead. 

child behavior - teach your kids to verbalize emotions
Understanding Child Behavior: Do Kids Really Misbehave For Attention?

When to zig and when to zag when kids misbehave will likely continue to be a puzzle for many parents—and it should. Strictly following a recipe of what to do from some self-proclaimed expert may seem at first like a good way out of the confusion, and maybe a decent place to start if you feel overwhelmed, but over the long haul, a customized approach that incorporates an honest look at the temperament of both you and your child is likely to produce the best and most sustainable results. And if you don’t know how to respond when asked whether you are an “attachment” or a “free-range” or an “intensive” parent, just say “yes.”

What’s your opinion on child behavior and kids attention?

Let us know in comments.


References

Rettew D.  Parenting Made Complicated: What Science Really Knows about the Greatest Debates of Early Childhood. New York: Oxford University Press, 2021.


Written by: David Rettew, M.D
Originally appeared on: Psychology Today
Republished with permission
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Understanding Child Behavior: Do Kids Really Misbehave For Attention?
Understanding Child Behavior pin
Understanding Child Behavior: Do Kids Really Misbehave For Attention?
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