A misbehaved child is a nightmare for many parents. If your child acts out frequently and their behavior is extreme, consulting a psychologist who specializes in child behaviors is best. However, it’s also important to educate yourself on why children act out and see if you can control your child’s behavior using simple tweaks first.
What acting out means
Before we dive into the reasons why children act out, it’s good to define the term. Acting out usually means behavior that’s disruptive to the normal functioning of a family.
This behavior can include physical aggression, verbal misbehavior, and destruction to property. Other times, behavior that’s more severe than your child’s normal behavior can be called acting out behavior.
Parents often use different terms to describe acting out, which include tantrums, meltdowns, defiance, and oppositional behavior among others.
If your child is exhibiting any of the behaviors described above, they are acting out and as a parent, it’s your duty to determine the cause behind their behavior and address it. Because most of the time, acting out is a manifestation of deep psychological conflicts that your child is going through.
So, let’s take a look at some reasons why your child might be acting out.
- Seeking attention
This is one of the most common reasons why children act out, and it’s pretty simple to deal with. Children often crave attention from authority figures such as parents, teachers, and elder siblings.
If you continuously neglect your child, depriving them off positive attention, they’ll settle for negative attention — they’ll act out frequently, so that you yell at them and reward them with negative attention.
The simplest thing you can do to address this cause of acting out is stop giving attention to bad behavior and start appreciating the good things your child does. Your goal is to give your child positive attention and make them realize that acting out will not result in any attention from you.
- Struggling for control
Children often feel powerless. After all, they don’t have a say in most matters concerning their lives, like which school they’ll attend and at what time they’re supposed to go to bed. This leads to feelings of helplessness and a child might try to fight these feelings by throwing tantrums (or exhibiting other acting out behaviors).
Acting out gives children who feel powerless a temporary feeling of control, especially if they’re acting out to manipulate and control your behavior.
As a parent, you might feel overwhelmed and challenged when your child acts out to gain power, but you should remember not to take it personally and see how you can alleviate your child’s feelings of helplessness by giving them a greater say in matters related to them.
- Feeling inadequate
This is another potential cause of acting out and it can be a difficult one to identify. If your child feels they’re not good enough — or they’re not meeting your expectations — they’ll withdraw themselves socially and refuse to participate in activities that you expect them to participate in.
You might see this as defiance but deep down inside, your child is really struggling with a low self-esteem and feelings of inadequacy. In this case, it’s extremely important to remain gentle with your child and work out clear expectations for them. Clearly defined expectations (along with frequent words of encouragement) can do wonders for your child’s self-esteem.
Autism or other conditions where children have problems with sensory processing are a frequent cause of acting out behavior.
That’s because these children find ordinary sensory stimuli such as blinking lights extremely uncomfortable and anxiety-provoking. And you might not even realize that a normal day for you is no less than continuous torture for your child.
- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
ADHD usually presents before 12 years of age and is characterized by poor impulse control (along with a limited attention span). Poor impulse control makes your child prone to acting out behaviour and if you observe symptoms of ADHD last more than 6 months in your child, you need to see a doctor.
Also, ADHD commonly coexists with oppositional defiant disorder, which is characterized by anger with argumentative or defiant behavior toward authority figures. This is another reason why a child with ADHD might commonly display acting out behavior.
You should also note that other personality disorders like antisocial personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, and histrionic personality disorder are also associated with acting out. However, these are usually seen in older children as opposed to ADHD, which is more common in younger children.