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Your child is acting out? Here is why

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Acting out is defined as “an extreme behavioral expression of emotions that relieves tension or communicates these emotions in a disguised or indirect way”. (Photo: Freepik)
Everyone has rough days, even children. Whether it was a bad day at school or a fight with a sibling, children can experience overwhelming emotions at certain periods of time. اضافة اعلان

And because children are not born knowing how to express their feelings, they tend to demonstrate their feelings by acting out. So if a child faces a scary or frustrating situation, they might respond by throwing a tantrum, getting aggressive, not cooperating, or rebelling against rules.

However, if parents start to notice a problematic pattern of this unwanted behavior, this can indicate that it is more than just a bad day. However, there is a fundamental disconnect between parents and children when dealing with and understanding the source of the action.

While it might seem children’s actions are coming out of nowhere, many parents and adults wrongly assume that this only means that the child needs to be more strictly disciplined instead of seeing it as an attempt to communicate by the child.

Therefore, parents must take that first step and get to the root cause of their children’s outbursts to remedy the situation in a calm manner that does not alienate the child.

A symptom, not a problem

It is important to note that “acting out” is not the problem itself but a symptom of a problem or an unfulfilled need.

According to the American Psychological Association, acting out is an “extreme behavioral expression of emotions that relieves tension or communicates these emotions in a disguised or indirect way.” Meaning that it is considered more severe than simple misbehavior and is disruptive to day-to-day functioning.
It is unlikely that your child has been throwing consistent tantrums for a significant amount of time just because they are hungry, tired, or thirsty — the problem is likely to be deeper than that.
This can include physical or verbal aggression or even the destruction of property. It can also manifest through defiance, disruptive actions, oppositional behavior, temper tantrums, meltdowns, and sometimes all the above at the same time.

Check the biological marker

When dealing with a child acting out, the first thing to get out of the way is checking if they are in any sort of physical discomfort.

It is unlikely that your child has been throwing consistent tantrums for a significant amount of time just because they are hungry, tired, or thirsty — the problem is likely to be deeper than that. A thyroid issue can cause a possible reason that can cause them to act out.

According to pediatric endocrinologists, behavioral issues are more common in children with hyperthyroidism — when the thyroid gland does not send out enough thyroid hormone to the body — including irritability, mood swings, and emotional outbursts.

Hearing issues might be another reason behind your child acting out. Most research suggests that problems with language and communications are the root of behavioral issues. Therefore, when there is a barrier such as hearing loss or difficulty in hearing between the child and others, this can increase their difficulty understanding and communicating verbally, affecting their impulse control and making regulating their actions more difficult.

A study that included a questionnaire filled by parents of 5,000 Dutch elementary school participants showed that students with slight or mild hearing impairment exhibited higher behavioral problems and scored lower on standardized testing than those with no hearing impairment.

Other possible reasons include children coping with sensory issues, including undiagnosed or unrecognized sensory processing disorders, which consistently cause them overstimulation and discomfort, like squeaky chairs or blinking lights.

Need for attention

Acting out could also mean that your child wants your attention, either positive or negative. However, parents must deal with negative behavior through certain parenting strategies to ensure that they are gradually working to improve them.
While it might seem children’s actions are coming out of nowhere, many parents and adults wrongly assume that this only means that the child needs to be more strictly disciplined instead of seeing it as an attempt to communicate by the child.
For instance, it is important for parents to, sometimes, ignore the bad mood and not give attention to or react to a child’s negativity. This is necessary because accepting your child, even when they have a bad temperament, will allow for your relationship to develop positively.

Try to minimize or avoid power struggles as much as possible. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Child Psychology looked at a link between parenting practices and child disruptive behavior problems in elementary school. It found that parents who rely on punitive punishments and interactions lead to elevated levels of disruptive behaviors in children.

It also found that low levels of warmth in interactions were associated with elevated levels of opposition. Additionally, physically aggressive parents were specifically linked to child aggression.

In addition to wanting attention from parents, children in elementary school and older might act out to gain attention from and/or impress their peers. Even then, it is important to understand the motivation behind such actions: whether it’s because they are being ostracized and left out of friend circles, are being bullied, or simply for amusement.

As long as acting out gives them the attention they want, they will continue to do it.

Worried or afraid 

Another reason that may cause a child to act out is out of fear or worry over something. 

It could be due to an upcoming transition or change, such as a new baby on the way, a new house, a new school, etc. And due to their lack of ability to express their fear or worry healthily, they will start to act out.

In addition to not being able to communicate their feelings verbally, children also have trouble regulating their emotions. So even if they have normal fears such as the dark or monsters, it will inhibit them from remaining calm and regulated and will have them on edge until these fears are addressed and, more importantly, validated.

Acting out becomes a coping mechanism for them to deal with these fears and a way for them to gain some control over the situation. If parents want to extinguish these negative behaviors, it is key for them to help their children gradually face their fears and overcome them.

It is also preferred for parents to address their child’s fear during a calm moment where they will be able to connect and converse with their child.

Parents can use bedtime stories or take them for a drive and address the issue honestly while remaining positive and optimistic.

How to respond to children acting out

While it is important to always try to look for the root cause behind negative behavior coming from your child before you implement a consequence or consider seeking help, you should feel comfortable knowing that will not always understand your child’s behavior — as children are not usually the most rational.

As long as you remain calm through any tantrum they might throw, you can ensure that your child will not feel as though you are against them. You should also validate their feelings, whatever they may be, to ensure the possibility of a connection and make them feel as though they can trust you.

However, setting clear expectations and following through with immediate, consistent, and age-appropriate consequences is also vital. Teach them positive behavior by encouraging them to make a positive effort to change their initial negative reaction, which requires time and patience.

Help them find hobbies and interests that can help relieve them and put them in a calm state.

If you do not see any improvement in your child’s behavior or notice that it has gotten worse, consider seeking help and speak to a professional, such as your pediatrician.


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