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Solving Behavior Problems

  • Dr. Michele Borba Author of Building Moral Intelligence
  • Published Oct 22, 2002
Solving Behavior Problems

Whenever a child suddenly begins to misbehave, there's almost always an unresolved emotional need that's triggering it. The best way to correct the behavior is get at the root of what's causing it.


No matter how strongly you stress morals and values at home, behavior problems with kids still emerge - particularly if there are some emotional needs that aren't being met. The problem with kids is that they don't have the ability to express what's happening and so they commonly act on those needs.

Our job as parents is to play detective and figure out what's behind the problem. Too often what we do is discipline the behavior - without trying to figure out what could be causing it. Behavior is a symptom - typically masking the real problem.


Here are a few steps to try and figure out what's triggering new behaviors:


Step 1: Take out a calendar and mark when you first saw these behaviors start to emerge. You probably will have to guess a bit but about when did these brand new problems start? Now ask yourself is there any correlation to something happening elsewhere (school, home, neighborhood, playground). There are several possibilities: a problem at home, new teacher, illness, national tragedy, schoolwork gets tougher, or a friend who won't play with her.


Step 2: Where does the behavior seem to be happening? (And when) Is it only at school, only at home, only on the playground, only with a certain other child? Usually there's a pattern.


Step 3: Determine what the behavior is. Be as specific as possible. That answer often helps you figure out what may be triggering the behavior.


Step 4: Why is she misbehaving? You usually can't answer this step unless you've answered the other three steps. But clearly the child is misbehaving to fulfill a need. Usually behaviors like this emerge due to fear (of failing, humiliation, safety), hurt (emotional hurt due to teasing, being ostracized, being left out), or frustration.


Step 5: Once you figure out why she's misbehaving you can fulfill the need. Does she need to learn new social skills because she's being left out, a boost in self-esteem, a tutor for her school work, a new friend because others are alienating her? Take the necessary steps to treat the cause.


This sounds like a long process but it actually can take just a few minutes. While we can't allow our kids to act inappropriately we also need to make sure there isn't something we're overlooking. And that is often the case. Play detective a bit. Talk to other people whose opinions you value. Watch her (without her seeing you are). Once you discover the need that she's trying to compensate for, there's much we can do.


If your child really is showing brand new misbehaviors that never were there before then there's something causing them to flare up. And it's our job as parents to find out. This could take a while - so don't give up. Just keep asking yourself why your child might be misbehaving and the answer will come.


For more information on instilling positive behavior read Building Moral Intelligence and Parents Do Make a Difference by Dr. Michele Borba. Visit Dr. Borba at and


About the Author: Michele Borba, Ed.D. -- The former classroom teacher is an internationally renowned consultant and educator who has presented workshops to over half a million participants. She serves on the advisory board for Parents Magazine and is the recipient of the National Educator Award. Dr. Borba is the author of 18 books including Building Moral Intelligence and Parents Do Make A Difference (Jossey-Bass), named by Child Magazine as an "outstanding parenting book of the year." She lives in Palm Springs, California with her husband and has three sons.