Dealing with misbehaviour: Connect and be a detective

Here at HaltonParents, we are asked how to deal with all sorts of misbehaviour. These questions can be difficult to answer. Very few misbehaviours can be solved by suggesting that if you do X, then your child will do Y. It can be downright frustrating! You just want to know how to get Sophie to listen, how to stop Liam from whining or how to get Emma to stop running wild at the grocery store.

To get to the root of misbehaviour, one of the first things we ask parents to do is to think about what else might be going on with their child. A child who is feeling lonely today might whine to express how they are feeling. If you can figure out why your child is misbehaving, you may have the power to prevent it from happening.

Check out this short clip below from Circle of Security International:

As the video says, we can start by asking ourselves, “How can I improve my relationship with my child?” and, “What is her behaviour trying to tell me?”

How can I improve my relationship with my child?

When your child feels loved and connected, you might find some of those misbehaviours happen less often. I used to think that my child’s misbehaviour was just a way for her to get attention, and if I ignored it, it would go away. But when I took a closer look, her attention-seeking behaviours were telling me she needed to connect with me.

LA father and sonife is busy. I’m the first one to agree with you on that. There’s not a whole lot of time or energy to spend on being the perfect parent. But trust me, this one little thing will make a big difference regardless of your situation and how busy you are: spend quality time with your child, where they have 100% of your attention, even if it’s only in 5-minute increments. It’s about quality, not quantity. Give it a try. “Forget” your phone at the front door. Turn off the TV. Really connect with your child and enjoy each other’s company. Positive interactions with you will help fill your child’s bucket or “attachment tank.” Check out how psychotherapist Andrea Nair explains the concept of an attachment tank in this blog post.

When misbehaviours happen (and they will), be a detective – all behaviour has meaning. Your child is not actually trying to annoy you. Step outside of the situation and view it from the perspective of your child. Try asking yourself:

What is her behaviour trying to tell me?

  • Are they hungry?
  • Are they getting enough sleep?
  • How is childcare or school going?
  • Have there been recent changes in your child’s life?
  • Is your child getting positive attention and enjoyable time with you?
  • Are they feeling rushed or busy?

If you answer ‘yes’ to any of these questions, your best bet is to first work on these issues and take a look at how you can tweak your family routines.

This does not mean you are tolerating misbehaviour. Your children still need clear rules and limits from you. Understanding why your child might be acting out gives you a chance to connect before you correct, and will give you clues to set your child up for success.

As an example, if your child is whining at the grocery store:

  • If you know your child is bored, you could get him to help you by giving him a “job” to do.
  • If you think he is tired because it’s almost nap time, consider doing the groceries earlier next time.
  • If you think he is hungry, you could give him a snack.
  • If he’s feeling rushed, you could take a deep breath and slow down to connect with him.

Give it a try. Like the ‘Circle of Security’ video clip shown above, try changing your questions. Instead of asking “How can I get Liam to stop whining,” try “What is his whining telling me?” Ask yourself how you can improve your relationship with your child. It may not be the quick fix you are looking for, but getting to the root of the behaviour and taking steps to help with the cause will prevent the behaviour from happening in the future.  And as a bonus, you are making a big investment in strengthening your parent-child relationship.

Have you tried looking at the root of your child’s behaviour and focusing your efforts on the causes? How did it go? Share your experience with us:

  • Leave us a comment below
  • Tweet with us @haltonparents
  • Follow us on Facebook
  • Email us at

For parenting information or to speak with a Public Health Nurse (every Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) simply dial 311 or 905-825-6000.

About Andrea Scott RN

I’m a public health nurse with the HaltonParents team – you'll find me on Facebook, Twitter and on this blog, writing about all things parenting. I’ve been working for the Halton Region Health Department since 2006 and my focus has been on supporting parents with babies and little kids. I have two little ones myself, “Pumpkin” and “Monkey” who give me plenty to write about! :)
This entry was posted in Children & Tweens, Emotional Well-Being & Mental Health for Your Child/Tween, Parenting, Parenting Your Child/Tween, Parenting Your Toddler & Preschooler, Play, Growth & Development, Toddlers & Preschoolers and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Dealing with misbehaviour: Connect and be a detective

  1. Pingback: 3 things to do when your child is whining | HaltonParents

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