Parents: How to Tell if it’s REALLY Naughty Behaviour

Sometimes our children, especially toddlers and preschoolers, do the right thing – but in the wrong place – jumping on the sofa; tipping books off the shelf; pouring mouthwash down the sink; eating a single bite from several apples; etc – jumping, tipping, pouring and eating are all normal behaviours – our littlies just need to learn where and when it’s appropriate to do them. I wrote about this in detail here: Right Behaviour – Wrong Place 

In our verbose, language dominated world we tend not to realise or acknowledge just how much people communicate through actions. This is particularly true for young children for whom the language areas of the brains are immature. An analogy would be a child’s language areas being more like dusty tracks compared to an adult having super-highways. Even at the age of 10 children still do not have the skills to truly communicate orally. If you think of a time when you were in a heated debate and thought of all you could have said afterwards – you might have more understanding of what children are going through.

In my post Attention Seeking is a Big Fat Lie, I discussed this, but after reading hakea’s post  (  I realised that I hadn’t actually outlined some of the things children do when they are feeling disconnected or overwhelmed in an attempt to communicate a need.

Here are some signs that your child feels disconnected from you and needs to feel connected again IN ORDER TO FEEL SAFE: 

 1. Sitting on our knee at meal times.

2. Eating from our plate.

3. Sleeping with us at night, or at the very least us lying with them while they go to sleep. If we can’t manage these – play pop-ins, where we pop-in to give them a kiss and snuggle every few minutes in increasingly long intervals. (Diane Levy’s idea)

4. Pushing between us and another on the sofa.

5. Misbehaviouring while we are: on the phone; chatting with a friend; focussing on a sibling; on the computer; asleep in bed when they are up in the mornings; or doing anything else where we are obviously not available to them. Whenever these happen at our house, I take it as a signal to stop what I am doing and engage. I state the boundary firmly, however the main focus is on reconneciton. (1.Staement: “Stop, we don’t…” 2. Reconnect 3. Token consequence. The older boys might have to fill one bucket of weeds or bring in X number of pieces of firewood. )

6. Coming into the bathroom or loo while we’re washing or otherwise busy.

7. Wanting to nap in the lounge or on the floor near to their Mum.

8. Wanting to be carried well after they can walk for themselves.

Here are some signs that your child is feeling overwhelmed due to tiredness, illness, busy-ness or expectations beyond what THEY BELIEVE THEY CAN ACHIEVE:

1. Needing help to get dressed – even up to the age of seven or eight children may need help at times.

2. Wanting us to sometimes fetch things for them or make breakfast/lunch for them when they could do it for themselves – especially when tired or ill. Our 10 year-old when exhausted will ask to have his breakfast made for him – and that’s just fine.

3. Inability to begin tasks, especially those which might be somewhat challenging or BIG (in their heads) like music practises, chores lists or homework. (Tortoises in particular). Chunking tasks, beginning the first task and helping them stick with that task until finished is a great place to start with these children.

4. Stubbornness: particularly when they have an audience (even of one person) who is totally focussed on them. Thank-yous and Sorrys can fit into this category and can be insisted upon, as long as the child says the words – they could whisper in your ear until they are aged seven, but with gentle nudging they learn what is expected and begin to appreciate they *can* manage the emotional flooding that some experience and eventually achieve this expectation fully. (Owls in particular).

5. Shouting, dramatic explosions, thumping items and otherwise threatening anger or violence. If the child is able to speak this is a form of Power Tantrum. Power Tantrums are a check to see if a boundary is going to be maintained. When faced with a having to complete something which TO THEM seems huge, Power Tantrums can result. We can insist on the boundary in a quiet and matter of fact way – you have to finish your homework, that’s just the way it is; help by breaking the tasks into small bits; and address the explosiveness. EG. Have child remove themselves and do something physical (boring and physical is best) this helps remove the stress hormones from their system. THEN show them how to break the large tasks into small bites. THEN be with them physically while they complete each small chunk. THEN set up strategies to prevent it all happening again. If we are consistent, over time these will dissipate. (Hares in particular).

5. Some children get all dizzy and show-off-y when they are under stress. They probably need a Boring Cuddle and perhaps a gentle and firm rub across the top of their shoulders. Tickle-fests work well for these situations, as long as we respect the child’s need to pause at times and stop when they are ready to stop. These children sort of lose the sense of being in their bodies (I know how flaky that sounds, but it’s the best way I can describe it) and the physical contact with another helps them center themselves.

6. In all of these working with or working alongside is essential – think of it like an apprenticeship stage which happens before mastery. An example of moving on to mastery can be found here: Parents: The Most Fabulous Chores Saga EVER!.

We have been brainwashed to think that some things need to be achieved consistently by certain age – perhaps that was the expectation placed on us, perhaps this is what our friends expect or what the school insists on – doesn’t mean it’s true. The push to independence is not natural, no more than parents stopping their children from developing independence at their own pace.

I *am* very big on manners and children understanding that the parents are the ones who are running the show, but I also understand why so many adult-children intellectually understand their parents love them, but don’t *feel* anything.

If we don’t get their emotional state and usefully help them with it (need a hug; need to play; need a boundary) – they simply don’t feel our love no matter how hard we try or how much we adore them.

My wish for you is to be the one who ‘gets’ their kids and helps them as their biology wants to be helped. Truly understand this post and put it into practise, and you will.

At a deep, fundamental level of our being: we are emotional FIRST and rational LAST.


About Karyn @ kloppenmum

kloppenmum is me, Karyn Van Der Zwet, mother of three and ex-teacher. I'm part of a revolution in parenting, with the aim to raise mature (not sophisticated) and self-assured children. I also know some stuff about adults. I have also had articles printed in The Journal for The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (Children and Young People) and the US parenting magazine, Pathways to Family Wellness, as well I regularly write for World Moms Blog (named as one of the Forbes 100 most useful blogs for women 2012 &2013). You can follow me on facebook (kloppenmum) pinterest (Karyn at Kloppenmum) and twitter (@kloppenmum). I'm also vaguely on LinkedIn (Karyn Van Der Zwet). Thanks to Joe (Mr Hare) for taking the photo. Cheers, son: xxxx.
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16 Responses to Parents: How to Tell if it’s REALLY Naughty Behaviour

  1. Marcy says:

    My late therapist said kids need to feel both known and loved — and often one side or the other is inadequate in some way.

    I like #5 — that sense of being grounded has somewhat often escaped me — at times I’ve felt like I’ve been seated on the edge of the circle of my life. I hate being tickled, but there are lots of other forms of roughhousing or physical play.

    • Interesting that you don’t like to be tickled, Marcy – massage can be difficult for some people too. I like the sound of your late therapist, sounds like someone with a great understanding of people.

      • Marcy says:

        Indeed he was.

        I was tickled to the point of torment most of the time.

        • Yuck. That would explain your dislike of tickling. The whole process can be such a great way to relieve stress, but the tickle-or has to be attuned and back off when the tickle-ee not longer finds it fun. (So sad for your los; you obviously miss him a lot.)

  2. hakea says:

    So comforting to hear someone else say this stuff. I’ve been neck deep in parenting groups this term and some days it feels like I’m walking against the tide.

    I agree with Marcy above. I’m not that into tickling and rumbling. Dad’s are frequently great at this. Squeezy hugs are about the best I can do.

    I also like sending my kids to quiet time in the rocking chair, so soothing.

    • I feel like we’re holding hands across the Tasman, Narelle! Many Dads are great at rough and tumble – ours has a crook back, so not so good. I did struggle with this when the boys were younger and I was less ‘myself’ but love it (for short periods) now. Rocking chairs and swings are fabulous – you’re right, so soothing. Have a great day. 🙂

  3. Your last line “At a deep, fundamental level of our being: we are emotional FIRST and rational LAST.” – love this! This is so incredibly truw and I need to remind myself of this more often.

  4. … and that would be ‘true’ not ‘truw’ LOL

  5. This is a really great post, and it has some good reminders in it. Because my kids are so different, I have to use totally different parenting styles for each of them. There are times when I feel that I know what I’m doing with my autistic son, but totally at sea with my neurotypical son. I love the advice you offer up here.

    • Thanks Kirsten, it’s good to have your support. We have three very different temperaments to deal with too – although not to the same extreme as you – it certainly keeps me on my toes too. The key does seem to be understanding temperament and physical reactions (that indicate stress or calm). People are so interesting!

  6. faemom says:

    You are so amazing. I feel like lately I’m losing my touch. We had a good run where everyone got along, and now they’re trying to push the line, and I’m not coping well. I seem to have gotten lazy. I need to reread a lot of your stuff.

    • Great to hear from you, Fae. I blog in order to remind myself about what I’m trying to do – as much as to help others out, so I wouldn’t be too tough on yourself. 🙂
      My biggest issue is keeping my own calm centre ( I try and imagine myself floating above all the issues and noise some times) then things seem to go more smoothly. It’s tough some days though.

  7. mamawearpapashirt says:

    Hi Karyn, I think it’s so true. Whenever I’ve not been showing love to my toddler, or am upset with her over something, she exhibits all the needy telltale signs. I’ve also been reading Brain Rules, so I learnt about children’s huge need for safety. It’s almost like the brain shuts down until the safety need is met – so basic as that. Still, knowing that is one thing. Being able to translate it into real life is another, and requires a discipline and strength to be able to pull through, especially during moments of meltdowns. Thanks for sharing this! Would love to read more on this topic. 🙂

    • Absolutely right, the brain does shut down when we don’t support our kids’ safety needs. It is a very interesting and complex topic – I have a book coming through amazon shortly (next couple of months) which deals with temperament and this might explain things more for you. Then I’ll go into more detail here and in future books…(Have to feed the kids!!) Love that you stopped by and commented. 🙂

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