Three Ways that Children Misbehave before they Behave

With the way childhood development works, children tend to fall apart—go through “stages”—before they have an increase in new skills. This is what my work has been trying to document. What I have noticed is that the manner in which they fall apart is related to the manner in which they will grow. And the “fall apart” behavior—aggression, lies, blame—is the type of behavior that scares and worries parents. You need not! Instead, embrace it and look forward to the new abilities on the other side. I have collected but three examples of this in which misbehavior comes before a stunning ability and how the misbehavior and new ability are related. Please share this with anyone struggling with their “misbehaving” child!

1. Toddler Milestone 9: Creative Problem Solving. Age: 2 years, 8 months

During the irritable period of this milestone, the child becomes paralyzed to solve a problem. You might ask them what movie they want, and they can’t answer. A toy might fall and they scream for it and they won’t get it (even though they are capable)—as if they are paralyzed. They can’t answer or solve the simplest of questions or problems. It can be extremely irritating!

But this is new growth on the way. Shortly after this irritable period, they can solve much more complex problems. They might see it’s raining and run to get an umbrella or see their brother crying and rush to get a bottle.

At first, they are paralyzed to solve a simple problem they have solved many times before, but after they can solve a much harder problem.

2. Preschool Milestone (tbd): Personal Responsibility. Age: 4 years 10/11 months

During the “regression” period of this milestone, the child purposely blames others. With my son, the way this manifested is he would fart and then announce, “I didn’t fart! YOU farted!”

Stay calm, mom and dad! This is again new growth. In a short amount of time, your child will take on an incredible amount of personal responsibility. During the new ability part of this milestone, my son insisted on carrying his own baseball equipment. When he fell, while still in pain, he would astonishingly say, “I fell, but it was my fault!” Within about a month’s time, with no punishment or correction from us, he finally took responsibility over who farted.

At first, the new ability shows up as misbehavior, in this case, blame. Soon however, it can and will turn into a positive: in this case, personal responsibility.

3. Early Elementary Milestone 5: Evaluate and Explains Ideas. Age: 5 years 6/7 months

During the “regression” period of this one, a child starts to lie, on purpose, in the most blatant and obvious of ways. They might knock something over and announce, “My brother did it!”

This is actually great new development. Before this major milestone, children accept all information uncritically and without question. After the transition period of this milestone, they question everything. This is major growth! How do I know what is fake or real? Is Santa Claus fake? When reading about a historical figure once, the historical figure, a dictator, said, “I have come in peace and to free you!”  My son gasped and said, “That’s a lie!”

This is the main message of my book series about this, Misbehavior is Growth. None of the “bad” behavior needs punished or corrected. Instead, you can focus on the new ability coming and give wings to the new skill. It’s not that parental involvement is not needed, but they need coaching and guidance, not punishment or insults. My book for toddlers is now available, Misbehavior is Growth: An Observant Parent’s Guide to the Toddler Years.

Misbehavior is Growth

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