Why do kids misbehave? Even though we often feel like behavior tends to appear out of nowhere that is not the case. All behavior, good or bad, occurs for a reason. There are four primary reasons that just about every behavior you can think of will fall int- to gain something, to escape or avoid something, for sensory reasons and for medical or physiological reasons. A certain behavior such as screaming could fall into anyone of these categories. Understanding the child's reason for exhibiting the behavior leads us to the most effective interventions.
When some children act out, they are trying to gain something. They may be trying to gain attention from a parent, a peer, a teacher or a sibling. They may be trying to gain a sense of power and control over a person or a situation. They may be trying to gain access to a toy, a game, a desired item, a person or a location. They may be trying to gain acceptance or affiliation from a person or group of people.
Some children act out to escape or avoid something or someone. They may be trying to avoid following directions to do something they are asked to do by a parent or a teacher. They may be trying to escape from being the center of attention. They may be trying to escape an unhealthy or unproductive environment. They may be trying to avoid getting caught and consequenced. They may be trying to avoid doing work or accepting responsibility for their behavior. They may be trying to avoid leaving a desirable item or location.
Some children also act out for sensory reasons. Some environments are too chaotic or too quiet. Some children need calm and stable environments; others thrive on high energy and interactive environments. Many children with special needs have either heightened or lessened sensory needs. Some children get overloaded easily. Some children need increased sensory input and others need lessened sensory input.
Other children act out for medical or physiological reasons that we often cannot see or determine ourselves. Children may act out because they have an infection, a fever, a stomachache or a headache. They may also act out because they have an undiagnosed medical condition such as Diabetes, PICA, ADHD or Bipolar Disorder. Children who are acting out for medical and/or physiological reason are often the hardest to deal with because it takes a doctor to diagnose them and treat them medically through medication, therapy, diet and/or other clinical interventions.
Some children act out for one of the four primary reasons listed above. Others act out for different reasons in different situations or with different people. Remember that understanding your child's reason for acting out is the most critical step in determining how to handle the inappropriate behavior. Without understanding the "why's" of behavior we are shooting in the dark with interventions. The way one would address a child who is screaming to gain attention and a child who is screaming because of sensory overload are completely different.