Atypical Behavior of Small Children


By Ron Hindbaugh M.A.


When a small child, who is normally quite outgoing, is placed in a new or unfamiliar setting their behavior can be quite unpredictable. Silly behavior, aggressive behavior, shyness, or just plain uncooperative may occur. The parent is usually baffled by this unexpected behavior on the part of the child.

It is always interesting to watch the parent when the child behaves in an unusual manner. The confused look is the first thing that one notices. What usually come next are the coaxing, the embarrassment, and then the apology. These antics are unnecessary if the parent understands what is happening and does some advance preparation.

Young children need order and consistency in their world. When everything is going as expected the child knows how to behave. Predictability is the key. Unpredictability sets the stage for anxiety and confusion. When the child is anxious of confused he/she will respond with silly behavior, aggressive behavior, or uncooperative behavior.

What can a parent do to help a child? Here are some suggestions. When a planned event, such as a guest coming to the home, is to take place, some parents put together a small photo album with pictures of the guest. Each day the parent reviews with the child the pictures in the book so the child becomes familiar, through pictures, with the person they will be meeting for the first time.

Family discussions about upcoming events are also important. At such discussions the child can be furnishing a calendar of their own. Such a discussion on Sunday can outline the events of the week. (Even little children can draw, or have drawn, pictures on the calendar squares of upcoming events.) Each morning when the child gets up the calendar and the special events of the day can be reviewed. Even if an upcoming event is going to be a new experience, the child will be prepared and is more likely to be cooperative.

You may even want to practice with your child and give them some experience in how to handle an anticipated situation. Pretending that the event is occurring is not the same as experiencing the event but such an experience gives the child some ideas that he or she can utilize when the “real” event occurs.

If an event occurs spontaneously, silly behavior can be handled by recognizing that the child is responding inappropriately because he/she does not know how to respond to this novel event or circumstance. Calmly give the child instructions on what is expected. Then give the child time to assimilate what you have told them. If you are embarrassed your child will sense they have done something they were not supposed to do. This can lead to an increase in unacceptable behavior.

The child needs to figure out how to behave in this new situation. Have faith in your child. Do what needs to be done to take the pressure of them to perform. When they have sized up the situation, they will be responding with behavior that is more typical of them.

But if your child remains confused or exhibits behavior that is unacceptable to you, do not hesitate from removing the child to another room for specific instructions and for communicating the expectations you have on how to handle the situation. This may sound like you are coming down hard on the child but the security the child needs from a parent who is “in control” can be very reassuring to them, even if they resist this instruction.

When your child misbehaves it is "not" a reflection of you. How you help your child when he/she misbehaves "is" a reflection of you.