Is My Child Naturally Naughty?

naughty child stealing strawberries

Some children seem to be angelic, but you might feel your child is always naughty.

Every child misbehaves at times, and some do it more than others. As babies, our children learn how to get the attention of their caregivers; it’s a natural way to survive. 

Humans aren’t made to live in isolation. We all need to interact and socialise with others. Children need our attention — however they can get it. Some will show off their perfect behaviour for praise, others will use challenging behaviour to get our attention.

What’s the problem with the word “naughty”?

Using words like “naughty” can be a problem as your child could start identifying as a “naughty child”. It can lead to them behaving badly because that’s the way they think of themselves. Being “bad” can become a part of their self-identity.

Instead of labelling them as being “naughty,” you can focus on the behaviour and what it shows you.

Why does my child always misbehave?

Behaviour is your child’s way of communicating. They may be feeling a powerful emotion, have an unmet need, or just want your attention. They probably don’t know why they’re behaving this way.

Instead of “attention seeking”, think of your child as “attention needing”. If your child usually gets your attention by misbehaving, you can change it. Try giving less attention to the challenging behaviour and instead focus on the positive things you want them to do.

Naughty child not listening to parent

Give attention to positive behaviour

It’s hard to break the habit of giving attention to the behaviours that challenge us. Start by talking about what you want to see, rather than what you don’t. You can say, “I like it when you…” so your child knows what you want to see.

  • “Stop hitting your brother!” becomes, “I like it when you talk calmly to your brother about a problem.”
  • “Don’t scream at me!” becomes, “I like it when you use a quiet voice.”

Look for little things your child has done well and give them your full attention for it. At first you might need to over-do it, so they get in the habit of enjoying hearing praise from you.

You might say:

  • Thank you for sitting nicely at the table.
  • Well done for getting your teeth brushed.
  • I like the way you’ve put your game away.

Instead of general “well done”s make your praise specific so they know what it is you like seeing them do.

Stop focusing on the challenging behaviour – but not your child’s need

Along with praising positive behaviour, it’s important not to give lots of attention to the behaviours you want your child to stop, unless your child is in immediate danger. 

First, check whether your child’s behaviour is their way of telling you there’s a physical problem. Could they be hungry, thirsty, bored or tired? This often explains why your child is showing challenging behaviour.

Reducing your focus on challenging behaviour is difficult. It’s not just about speaking. Eye rolling, sighing, even changing your tone of voice are ways you’re giving your child attention for without meaning to. 

What is the behaviour telling you?

Instead of just concentrating on the behaviour, look at the reasons behind it to understand what your child needs from you.

Sometimes that means taking a hard look at ourselves. We all get busy, feel tired, or are distracted by social media. Often, these challenging behaviours happen when children try, and fail, to get our attention any other way.

Take some time to reflect on what happened before the behaviour. Is there something you could have done differently?

Changes takes time

It’s important that you always respond consistently to behaviour that challenges you. If you sometimes ignore them and at other times start shouting, it won’t work. Encourage other adults in your child’s life to respond in the same way so you are all being consistent.

At first, their behaviour might seem to get worse as your child gets used to this new way of things. They may push against you to see how far they can go before you react. But they’ll quickly notice that behaving well is a far easier way to get your attention.


Find out more 

We’ve experienced so much change through COVID-19 lockdowns. Many children found it hard to adapt to new rules and routines, and are now struggling to get back to “normal” life.

But there are also plenty of positive lessons we can take from these COVID years. Find out how everyone can enjoy spending time together with our Support Talk video series. We call it Bouncing Forward.

Looking for more support?

Our parenting classes and webinar sessions are a great way to understand more about your child’s behaviour.

We share practical ideas you can use at home to reduce arguments and get everyone talking and listening to each other. Browse our upcoming events.

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