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Redirecting Children's Negative Behaviors

Why do children misbehave?

Usually, misbehaving is caused by: Attention seeking, power and control, revenge, or feeling inadequate.

  • Attention seeking. Research has shown that the average child gets only 12.5 minutes a day of real communication with their parents. Children may learn that negative attention is better than no attention at all. For example, parents won't come to regular teacher conferences, but they'll come to the principal's office if the child is in trouble. Paying attention to good behavior can help prevent bad behavior.
  • Power and control. As children get older they seek more and more independence. They may resent parents telling them what to do. Let them help make decisions that increase in importance as they get older. This helps them feel as though they have some power over their lives. Let your child know that you love them no matter what. This does not mean that you accept or approve of everything that your child does. Although they may protest, having parents set firm boundaries is reassuring to children. You are the final authority for them.
  • Revenge. When children feel hurt, they often act out to hurt others the way they feel they have been hurt. Encourage children to share their feelings openly and honestly. This promotes healthy relationships and decreases the chance the child will feel the need to act out.
  • Inadequacy. Research has shown that children hear an average of 400 negative comments a day. They hear only 32 positive comments a day. Praise your child's positive behaviors and try to focus on their strengths.

What is redirecting?

"Redirecting" is when you encourage your child to change her activity. For instance, if a child is throwing sand at another child in the sand box, rather than taking a toy away or spanking them, it is best to remove him from the sandbox, explain that throwing sand is dangerous and let him know that he will not be allowed to play in the sandbox for the rest of the day. When your child misbehaves, redirect their negative behavior:

  • Remove them from the situation and talk calmly about the behavior.
  • Explain why he may not do that behavior and calmly explain the consequences. Natural consequences or consequences that match the behaviors are more effective than punishment. This way the child learns from their negative behaviors.

For more information, see

Teaching Self-Quieting Skills to Toddlers

Written by Judith J. Becerra, MS, LPC.
Published by McKesson Provider Technologies.
Last modified: 2006-10-30
Last reviewed: 2006-10-16
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright 2006 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All Rights Reserved.
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