I often get asked “why does my child misbehave?” Unfortunately, children are going to test, push and behave in ways that we don’t like sometimes. Kids exhibit challenging behavior like whining, hitting, biting, screaming, talking back or throwing things for one of the following reasons:

  • It works
  • They want to get out of doing something
  • They want to obtain something
  • They don’t have the skills to do something else when they have a big emotion

The biggest thing to remember is that all behavior is communication. So… ask yourself, what is he trying to tell me? It might be that he is hungry or tired or lonely or just doesn’t know what he wants or how to tell you. While this can be frustrating, it helps to remember that he is just little and is still working on so many skills, even if he is 10 or 15!

The first step…
Try to pause, observe and utilize the ABC Tool for behavior modification. It is based on the work of B.F. Skinner, who is known as the father of behaviorism. This tool can help people examine behaviors they want to change, the triggers behind those behaviors, and the impact of those behaviors on negative patterns.

The ABC Behavior Modification Tool is used to observe and document what is happening around your child’s behavior. Remember, all behavior is communication, so taking notice of what the behavior is, what is happening before the behavior, and what happens after the behavior will provide you with information you can use to change things in the future. You are just observing and documenting with this tool to gather information. Remember you are just documenting what is happening; you are not including judgement or excuses. Try just observing for a week and writing things down to see if there are patterns.

Here are a few examples. First look at column B, then move to A and C.


What happened before the behavior occurred?
Who was there?
Where did it happen?
When did it happen?


What is the specific behavior that occurred?


What was done or said after the behavior occurred?

Brother and sister were playing in the family room before dinner. Brother wanted sister’s toy. Sister hits, bites or hurts brother. Mom yells and puts sister in time out.
Child is having fun playing house with dad and does not want to go to bed. Child says, “no I won’t pick up my toys.” Parent threatens to take things away, yells and starts bedtime routine.

The second step…

Once you have done this you can then make a plan of what to do differently so that the behavior changes. It is important to remember that as the parent you cannot control your children – what they feel, how they think or how they respond to situations. Your job is to see what stressors, skills or unmet needs they may be trying to tell you about, and provide the support they need.

In the first example where sister hits brother when they are playing, you would want to look at the age of the children because having realistic expectations is so important. Do they have the language and the skills to be able to communicate their dislike in something instead of using physical force? If not, it is your job to teach those problem solving skills. When you hear things starting to escalate – it is a good time to step in and say – It sounds like you both want the same toy. What can we do? See if they have ideas or you can help them by teaching them what sharing, trading, or waiting looks like. Using a visual timer can be very helpful for children to manage sharing.

In the second example where the child does not want to clean up and get ready for bed, you could look at your routine and expectations that have been set. Providing warnings to transitions can be very helpful. Dad could say, “it is getting close to bedtime, in 5-minutes we will have to clean up and start getting ready, so I will set the timer.” Some children respond well to being allowed to set the timer and hit start because they feel in more control.

The third step…
Taking the role of observer and getting curious about your children’s behavior allows you to make a plan for responding. When parents make a plan, they feel like they have other options than yelling, nagging, threatening and shaming!

Keep in mind that your child is going to have to get used to this new way of your responding so don’t give up if it does not work the first time! It takes repetition in order to create a new habit!

Sleep is a key element in parent patience and children being able to manage their emotions! When children or parents are exhausted, all of this is twice as difficult! If you feel like sleep is at the root of your challenges, then download Keys to Peaceful Sleep which provide you with the details you need to get your child sleeping through the night, so you can too!

Are you thinking, I have tried everything and nothing works for my child? Let’s talk! I would love to help you! Sign up for a free 20-minute consultation!

Wishing you a peaceful home and restful sleep!