Why Kids Misbehave

Here are three ways parents encourage their kids to misbehave.

I’m a product of the 70s, a time when everyone in my third-grade class sat and listened silently while our teacher, Mrs. Sampe, expounded on a concept. When she finished talking, we followed directions. The greatest problems in our classroom were chewing gum and passing notes.

You can imagine my shock when I became an elementary school teacher twenty-five years later. During my first week of teaching, one of my students stood in the middle of my explanation about Vincent Van Gogh, approached me, tugged on my skirt and tattled on his buddy at the back of the room. I couldn’t believe I was being interrupted in the middle of a lesson! I later discovered that this behavior — and much worse — was the norm. What happened to good, old-fashioned respect?

In his book Have a New Kid by Friday, Dr. Kevin Leman asks similar questions, but in relation to parenting. “Why is it that these days that so many children tend to diss their parents, to act disrespectfully? Why are so many parents caught in the roles of threatening and cajoling and never getting anywhere? What’s going on here?”

Granted, many things have affected kids since Beaver Cleaver and black and white television. Technology has made huge advancements but sends millions of negative messages to kids about authority. Drug use has increased. The family structure has all but fallen apart. However, the real answer to Leman’s question (and my teaching problem) is that because kids misbehave because they can and because adults let them.

In his book, Dr. Leman says, “It all comes down to who is really in charge of your family.” He points out that many parents are so concerned about being their child’s friend — not hurting their child’s feelings or making sure that their child is always happy — that they fail to parent well.

Leman’s comments lead to several pointed questions: Are you willing to do whatever it takes to take charge of your family? Are you willing to look like the “bad guy” at times in order to parent your children so they will stop rolling over you? Are you ready to be an assertive parent, helping your child become all he can be?

Here are three ways parents encourage their kids to misbehave.

No parenting game plan

Imagine a football coach having no plan to lead his team to victory. What would it be like if he never put any plays into action? What if he didn’t discipline his team or expect them to perform? What if he let them run wild everywhere without direction? No doubt, life with his “team” would be chaotic and exhausting.

Parents lead kids much like a coach leads a football team, and to experience victory, parents need a good parenting game plan. Part of having a plan means defining the attitudes, behaviors and character traits you want your children to possess. When you can define these, you’ll be able to begin to develop a plan to become a super parent.

In his book Have a New Kid by Friday, Dr. Leman helps parents put a one-week parenting game plan into action that helps reduce parental frustration, put parents back in the coach’s seat and transform their child’s attitude, behavior and character.

Not only should you develop an “overall” parenting plan, but it’s also important to have a scheduled minute-by-minute plan, especially with your smallest children. As an elementary teacher, I learned that the best defense against bad behavior is having a good lesson plan that would keep their little hands busy. The same applies to parenting. Keep your kids busy with things to learn, with stuff to do and with an agenda, and your parenting job will be much easier with fewer discipline problems.


As an elementary teacher, I learned the hard way that children have brains like elephants — they will latch onto even your the smallest promises (positive or negative) and remember them a day, week, month or year later. Therefore, I learned that consistency was of utmost importance in discipline. If I said I was going to dole out a pink slip and a trip to the school’s front office the next time I saw a particular student, I needed to deliver rather than make threats or promises I didn’t intend to keep. And if you don’t do what you say you will, they won’t respect you.

Dr. Leman agrees. He says in Have a New Kid by Friday that a child’s misbehavior serves a purpose in his life: it gives him a reason to control you. Sadly, if a parent does not show the child that they are in charge through consistency, a child’s contempt for their parent will grow. As Dr. Leman says, “. . . if he [your child] can control you, why respect you?”

Power struggles

Several years ago my grandmother told me that in marriage you have to pick your battles. The same is true in parenting. If you want your home to be peaceful, you need to decide which battles are worth fighting with your kids, and which aren’t. This will help stop power struggles that increase bad behavior.

If your child wants to wear a shirt/skirt combo that makes her look like she dressed herself in a dark closet, and she is very strong-willed, you may ask yourself if it’s worth fighting her to get her to change her duds. On the other hand, if she wants to spend time with a boy in a dark closet, you might want to make a big deal out of that. The battles that you choose to fight will directly affect your child’s level of misbehavior — especially if your child is strong-willed.

Granted, becoming a stellar parent takes energy, but the payoff will be greater than anything you could have imagined as your children grow.

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