What’s Really Going on Underneath Your Child’s Misbehaviors (and How to Respond)

Child's behaviors, understanding child behaviors, misbehavior, teaching children about feelings, one heart counseling center, child therapy, art therapy

Children naturally have big and strong emotions.

Unlike many of their adult counterparts, they are still learning.  They may not know how to regulate their feelings or what to do with them when they come up.

 This can lead to what we, as parents, may see as “misbehaviors.”

It’s important to understand what feeling is underneath the behavior and to discipline the misbehavior not the emotion behind it.

Some common misbehavior examples and the feeling underneath it:

Tantrums, throwing things or being destructive– Your child struggles with recognizing his/her feeling of anger.  Your child is physically showing you that something has made them angry.
Crying over small things– Your child is experiencing fear or anxiety and may be unable to verbalize it.
Hyper behaviors or playing too rough with others– Your child may be struggling with regulating their excitement.
Perfectionistic Responses– Your child may have negative thought patterns about themselves and may be experiencing anxiety or worried feelings.
Irritability-  Your child may actually be experiencing sad feelings and may be unable to recognize feelings of sadness or how to verbalize it.  Another possibility is that your child is a Highly Sensitive Child and does not know how to navigate that sensitivity.  Read here and here if you want to know more about Highly Sensitive Children

Some Helpful Responses:

ONE: Help your child to recognize their feeling, acknowledge the feeling and know that it is OK to have those feelings.

If your child is throwing a tantrum and has thrown their toy, a way to encourage a better understanding of their feelings would be to say, “I can see that you are very angry because you have thrown your toy.  I would have felt angry [in the situation] also.”

TWO:  Discipline the behavior if needed NOT the feeling.

Clarify that although the feeling is OK, the behavior that resulted is not.  Be clear that the specific consequence is for the behavior, not the feeling.  Expand on the scenario above by saying, “Everyone feels anger and it is OK to be angry, but it is not OK to throw your toys.  You are on time-out for throwing your toys.”

THREE: Build coping skills to regulate and communicate feelings

Offer them or model a suggested alternative behavior such as taking deep breaths, counting to ten, physical activities such as running or hitting a pillow, or even yelling into a pillow.

Praise them when they use the coping skills, practice the coping skills with them, and praise them whenever they use feeling words in their communication with you.

Remember that children are constantly growing, learning and evolving.

Just as they need to learn their abc’s in school in order to read and write, they need to learn how to understand their feelings before they can learn to respond to them more positively.

We as parents are their to help teach them what to do with their feelings.

When your child is “misbehaving,” it usually just means that they need some extra help understanding their emotions and learning what to do with them.

**Written by Chelsea Derossi, M.A., MFT, ATR, Child and Adolescent Specialist at One Heart Counseling Center**


  1. Gaynor
    June 1, 2018

    Thanks for sharing! I am forwarding this to my husband.

  2. […] you’re able to look past your kids misbehavior or yelling and recognize the reasons for their outburst or behavior, it’s possible that this is what your child needs in that […]


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