University of Illinois Extension

Teaching Young Children Good Behavior

Marsha Hawley, Family Life Educator

If you have young grandkids, you've probably had days when their misbehavior has gotten the best of you. Children usually misbehave for three reasons:

  • because they want something
  • to avoid something
  • to change the level of excitement

When children want something, they often act in ways that are inappropriate. If you think the child can or should have what he wants, then help the child ask for it in a more appropriate way. If you do not want your grandchild to have what she wants, say "no" and give a short explanation for your decision. If the child gets upset, acknowledge the feeling, but stay firm in your decision.

Children also act out when they want to avoid something. They might misbehave if they are afraid - and being bad is easier than dealing with something that troubles them. Let's say your grandchild doesn't want to go to school - misbehaving is an attempt to avoid school that day.

Help your grandchild by talking about what she is avoiding, and help relieve the anxiety about what will happen next. Sometimes children are afraid of leaving when they don't know what will happen to them.

When children want to change the level of excitement, they will either try to increase excitement - by raising the noise, activity or sensitivity level - or they will try to make things less exciting. If there are a lot of people at your house and your grandchild wants it quieter, he might act out so the people will leave and the home can become quieter. On the other hand, if the child doesn't have enough fun things to do, she will find entertaining things to do - which may or may not be the right things to do.

As adults, we have to help children learn how to behave in appropriate ways. It isn't easy raising grandchildren. Kids are exposed to more things at an earlier age, so the old ways of doing things often don't work.

Understanding why children act as they do can help guide our actions as we help them learn appropriate ways to behave.