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Why Your Child Acts That Way

By Elizabeth B. Krieger
WebMD Feature

Just when you think your child is capable of acting almost "adult," or at least more mature than they used to be, they do something that makes you wonder what they're thinking.  

They stretch the truth, pretend they don’t hear you, or explode into tears seemingly over nothing. They tease and babble like they were still babies. Why? There are usually simple explanations and ways to head off these habits.

Fibbing

The lies may be little ("Yes, I made my bed!") to bigger ("No, I didn't hit my sister.") but you know that what you're hearing is far from the truth.

Why they do it: Because they fear the punishment; or because they have gotten away with it before and hope they can again; or because they don't want to disappoint you, says Michele Borba, PhD, author of The Big Book of Parenting Solutions.

Teasing

This is good-natured ribbing of friends, siblings, and other family members -- not bullying.

Why they do it: Because it's fun and can make the teaser feel powerful, says Dawn Huebner, PhD, a clinical psychologist in Exeter, N.H., and the creator of the What-to-Do Guides for Kids series.

What to do about it: Help your child know when they're going too far and how to be sensitive to other people's feelings.

When your child teases someone who doesn't like it, take her aside and ask her how her comments are making the other person feel. "Boost their sensitivity skills by encouraging her to look at the other child's reactions and her facial expressions," Borba says.

Of course, if the teasing is clearly going too far, you should step in to make sure the kids are safe. Then take them aside to talk about what happened and how to prevent it from happening again.

Playing Pranks

Why they do it: For laughs, to feel powerful, and to get a reaction out of you, Huebner says.

What to do: Talk to children about when and how it's OK to play jokes and pranks, and how to tell if it goes too far.

Is the prank harmless or mean-spirited? Does it make someone laugh or distress them? Can your child tell the difference?

"Kids sometimes have a stronger sense of humor than they do a sense of consequences, so you might need to help them see how the other person may not be laughing," Borba says.  

Pouring on the Drama

Why they do it: To get attention or because they're still learning how to handle their emotions. Some kids may be acting. Others "really feel things deeply, intensely. In the moment, they are devastated," Huebner says.

What to do: Don't reward it with your attention. Instead, talk about it and about other ways to handle emotions like anger, jealousy, or frustration. Be empathetic. "In the moment, telling her, ‘Hey, it's no big deal,' feels to her like you're minimizing the issue. Instead, say that you understand how hard the situation is, or that you see how frustrated she is."

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