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Why Do Children Act Out—And What Can You Do to Encourage Positive Behavior?

Why do children behave badly? It’s a question that comes up all the time for parents, teachers, and researchers who study child development. We all expect challenging behavior from time to time, of course, but it’s important to encourage positive behavior as much as possible from a young age.

At a basic level, children usually act out when they have unfulfilled wants, desire attention, or don’t want to do something. Although negative behavior does usually result in some kind of attention, it’s usually not the kind of attention the child wants or the adult wants to give. Teaching children to express their needs and wants in a more positive way is essential for healthy development.

Children who learn how to express themselves positively will be happier and build stronger relationships with both children and adults. But in shaping positive behavior, it’s important to remember that children are individuals and require a customized approach, especially if they are displaying signs of a behavioral disorder. By figuring out when challenging behaviors are most likely to occur, parents and teachers can anticipate and reduce challenging behavior while encouraging a more positive response.

Identifying which behaviors are unwanted is usually the easiest part of behavior modification in developing children. Once the behavior, common triggers, and motivations are identified, a personalized plan for encouraging good behavior can be developed. Some children might need something as simple as more breaks, while others will need to gradually build up their social skills or ability to follow directions with small steps and lots of praise.

More challenging behavior may require help from a professional. Different types of behavior and behavioral disorders may involve a specialized approach with different reinforcement structures. Find out more about different methods for encouraging positive behavior in this infographic from Regis College.


How teachers, parents, and applied behavior analysis can get children to engage in positive behaviors.

Regis College Online

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