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When Kids Act Out


Young children need a lot of attention because they cannot care for themselves. As kids grow, they learn to become more self-sufficient and no longer require parental assistance in every aspect of their lives. Children ages 4-6 are typically at the precipice of no longer having their parents' attention 24/7 and must learn how to deal with that shift. Many kids don't like the transition and choose to act out.

What is acting out at this age?

While teenagers slam their doors or even drive off, young kids don't have such options to show they're upset. Instead, they may cry or whine with no real reason. They stomp around and throw things and even get physical by kicking or hitting someone near them. Temper tantrums are common among children ages 4-6 as they act out in an attempt to get their way.

Why are they acting out?

The main reason kids at this age misbehave is because they want attention. While their curiosity and interests are expanding, leading them to do some serious exploring on their own, they still want mom and dad to look on. Let's say you're at the grocery store, for example, and your 5-year-old son begins whining about wanting some marshmallows. You tell him no and to please lower his voice. He may then escalate to full-on yelling, or even start grabbing items off the shelves. Your son is likely upset because you're focusing on your grocery list and getting the necessary items for dinner instead of looking at him. Over time, he will learn that you cannot possibly place all your attention on him at all times.

How can you help?

In the event of the grocery store example, consider getting your kid involved in the task at hand. Talk to him about what you're buying and why. Ask him questions about the foods you pass, like, "Do you like broccoli?" or "What do you want for dinner?" Have him help you pick out ingredients or even attempt to read your grocery list. This way, you're paying attention to him and reducing the likelihood he'll act out while still completing your objective of getting groceries.

This won't always work. Sometimes your kids will act out because they're exhausted or have eaten too much sugar. Some days they're just cranky - we all have those moments! The key is to remain patient. Yelling often only escalates the situation, whereas calmly addressing the issue at hand is much more soothing and likely to earn a positive response from your child.

Psych Central wrote that children learn through trial and error. Acting out is one way to earn a response, even though it often doesn't gain the reaction kids are hoping for. Every child is different - some require more attention and interaction than others, so it's up to you to learn how to suss out the real reason behind misbehavior and to then address the issue at hand.

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