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Five reasons your child is acting out and how to handle it

Parenting By Audrey Masitsa
Acting out is usually a sign of an underlying issue (Photo: Shutterstock)

Parenting comes with its own set of challenges which, if ignored, can make this journey anything but enjoyable. One of the biggest challenges I have faced while raising my daughter is when she acts out. Don’t get me wrong, she’s quite a peaceful child and we have the same temperament so, for the most part, I know how to handle her emotions since they’re so similar to mine.

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The problem comes when she starts acting out and all my efforts to help her get to a good place are in vain. I’m often baffled about what to do next because God knows I hate to see her upset and don’t know how to help her.

Children act out for a variety of reasons. The most common ones are hunger or exhaustion which you can easily resolve with some food or a nap respectively. However, there are those times when their acting out is a sign of an underlying issue that they don’t know how to deal with. These include:

1. Outside influence including you

2. Anger

3. Worry

4. Fear

5. Frustration

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Let’s look at these in more detail and what you should do if your child is acting out.

1. Outside influence including you

We all tend to imitate others’ habits and our kids do the same. You’ll notice that they talk like the people or cartoons that they watch, imitate a playmate or even repeat things that you say.

When your child acts out because they have seen someone else do it. To rectify this behaviour, remind them that in your home you try to speak to people with kindness. If they’re mirroring you, apologise for your behaviour and aim to do better next time.

Be kind and validate your child's emotions (Photo: Shutterstock)

2. Anger

There are times when my daughter acts out and when I ask her what’s bothering her she says she is angry. While you might not see what your child has to be angry about, avoid invalidating their emotions. Just like you get angry, your child too can get angry. Then, empathize. Tell them how sorry you are that they are upset. Help them express their anger. Talking about what is making them upset can help them move on quickly.

3. Worry

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Change can bring about worry and make your child act out. Things like moving to a new neighbourhood or school, or a new addition to the family, can result in unusual behaviour.

Just like when they’re angry, always validate their feelings. Find out what exactly is worrying them and provide solutions. For instance, if they’re worried about joining a new school, tell them about all the new opportunities this change presents them. Change often evokes fear of the unknown. Steer them from their negative thoughts to more positive ones.

4. Fear

Your child might start acting out because they are afraid. Bedtimes, which were a breeze before, could suddenly become difficult and you’re stumped as to why. With a little digging, you could discover that your child is afraid of a monster or a ghost that they saw in a cartoon.

Reassure your child that they are in a safe place. Help them find coping mechanisms so that they learn how to handle their fears in the future.

5. Frustration

Another reason my daughter acts out is because of frustration. Sometimes she wants to do an activity that is too grown up for her, or she tries to read and remembering the words is difficult. Frustrations come in all shapes and forms especially when you’re trying to accomplish a milestone unsuccessfully.

If you notice that your child is acting out because of frustration, help them understand that we all have frustrations and the best way to get past them is to keep trying until we accomplish what we’ve set out to do.

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