Unwanted Behaviors : Acting Out

All Ages8 Comments

Henry acting out?


That never happens.Ha. I wish that was a true story.

Henry whizzed through the terrible twos with just a lot of energy, not really being terrible.

The threes have been another story. It has been very common to see a full-blown tantrum over the tiniest thing.

acting out behaviors for preschoolers

What I have come to learn is that my behavior affects his behavior.

I know this is basic knowledge to a parent, but it keeps getting reminded to me with every tantrum. I look at how my mood has been, and sure enough, I haven’t been in the best mood either, and probably taking it out on Henry.

But that’s not always the case…

raising kids is tough

I’m so glad to receive questions from you regarding these behavior changes of your children, and luckily for you (and me!), the experts have given their professional and personal advice to help dissolve fighting and bad behaviors from your preschoolers.

My 2 yr old, otherwise well behaved, has started to change. She is getting stubborn and demands things to be in a certain way in public or else she raises her voice and if she gets angry she raises her hand on me too. And when I complain about it to my hubby… she remains quiet when he asks her to apologize and not to repeat..she says sorry, but she repeats it the very next day.– asked by rafcy

This week’s advice and helpful tips come from all four experts:

Parenting Expert (Erin from The Intentional Parent) :At two years old, unfortunately what you are describing is pretty common behavior, she is testing you. Your best strategy is to deal with her behavior in the moment. Two year olds have short memories, and often poor self control, so asking her to apologize later in the day is of very limited usefulness. By having your husband do the disciplining (unless he is also present when your daughter is acting out) you may be unintentionally sending the message to your daughter that you are not able to handle her behavior, and she may act even worse in public. Here are some strategies that may work for you to deal with her behavior in the moment:

  1. Discuss expectations for her behavior directly before you go into the store (such as in the car in the parking lot).
  2. If she starts to act out give her a reminder.  If she continues to act out, leave the store.  Yes this is frustrating, but you should only have to do this once or twice before she gets the message. When my son was going through this phase, I made a few “unnecessary” trips to the store.  This made it easier to pick up and  leave if need be (it’s much more difficult to stick to this course of action if you are in the middle of your grocery shopping!).
  3.  Give her lots of praise when she does behave well.  You can also give her a reward at the end of the shopping trip if she is well behaved.  Stickers are a great incentive.
  4. Remember, we’ve all been there as parents. Public tantrums and acting out in public are par for the course. If you are consistent in how you deal with them, they will be short lived (even though it doesn’t seem that way when you are in the moment!).
  5. Here is a link to a post I wrote recently on 10 techniques for dealing with toddler tantrums, which you may find useful.

Good Luck!

— Erin, The Intentional Parent

Mom Expert (Jill from A Mom with a Lesson Plan) :Oh boy do I have an answer for this one! At age 2 kids are really starting to understand that they are their own person. They begin to see that they have choices and that they are able to control situations. Some kids test this more than others; Little M (now 4 ½) is a prime example.  She likes what she likes, wants what she wants, and isn’t happy when she’s feeling controlled!  I have found a couple of techniques that work beautifully with her (I hope these tips help you bring on the peace, and enjoy the independence of this age!)

  1. Pick your battles. You’ve heard that before, I’m sure. I take it to mean find what really matters to you and what doesn’t. For me, fighting about which clothes she wears or how her hair is done isn’t worth it. Making sure her teeth are brushed and that she is using a kind tone are far more important. I give her small choices EVERYWHERE it is possible.
    • Would you like to dress yourself, or would you like my help?
    • Would you like to climb in the car from this side or from the other side?
    • I’m making your sandwich, would you like jelly or honey with your peanut butter?
      Did you notice how the choices were still controlled within the question?
  2. Inspire Independence. Remember that it is all about independence at this age. And independence can be a BEAUTIFUL thing! It takes some patience (on Mom and Dad’s part) while they figure things out, but YAHOO when they do! The biggest challenge for ME (notice I said me, because it was my desire to be in control that caused the problem) was giving Little M the freedom to choose the clothes she wears. I had to give up on the cute, perfect little girl outfits and adorable hair styles. We even went as far as setting up her dressing area so that she can reach everything. She can wear what she wants and change as many times as she wants as long as she does it all herself.
  3. Shine in public. Once you have given all of these options at home, going out should be much easier.  But if she still acts up, remember that everyone has been there.  Do your best to ignore the on lookers and stick with your values.  More likely than not a couple of those prying eyes are taking notes on what to do when they are dealing with the same behavior.
  4. Have a backup plan. If all else fails, I leave. Little M gets one more choice. “Would you like to leave on your feet or in my arms.” She gets about 2 seconds to walk out before she is carried to the car.

P.S. It’s wonderful to have your husband stand up for you, and an important way to show unity. Standing up for yourself can be an important lesson too. Try this statement next time she speaks to you in a way that you don’t like. “I don’t talk to you that way, and I will not allow you to talk to me that way either. When you are ready to use a kind tone, I would love to hear what you have to say.” You will be defending yourself, as well as teaching your daughter how to defend herself in the future.

— Jill, A Mom with a Lesson Plan

Lifestyle Expert (Sarah from Füdoo Boards) :Yup – Two year olds will do that. Even though it is really disruptive to your world right now, there is no ignoring it. Your child is testing her independence and forming her place in the family. The trick is helping her find the balance between being the Big Boss (demanding) and feeling like she has no say in anything (beat down or rebelling).I don’t think asking for an apology at the end of the day is going to work. The behavior she is apologizing for is so long gone in her mind, any apology for it is meaningless. It might be time to turn the table around – FROM her not minding you TO focusing on being part of the team that makes up your family.

Mom and Dad need to present a united front. You both need to agree on a plan for every time you see the unwanted behavior and stick to it. Timing and consistency is key. Deal with the behavior right when it happens. Be consistent with your words and actions and feelings when dealing with the behavior.

Here is an example plan to practice in public and at home (This came from a book I read called, Love and Logic Magic for Early Childhood, by Jim Fay):

  1. Child exhibits behavior.
  2. Ask for helping behavior, put your hand out, come to her level.
  3.  Say – Oh-oh – if she still won’t help.  Use these words as her cue that trouble is coming.
  4.  If she is a helper, she gets a big HELPER high five and hug. If she doesn’t help, she is removed from the scene. Don’t use food as a reward.

I know it seems like a simple plan, but that is what you need in order to stick to it 10 times a day! Hang in there and check out the book. It got me through the tough stage you are in now.


  1. Don’t lose it. I know we are only human, but staying calm in some of these tough situations is really tough. But if you start losing it, your child will see that you have lost control. Try not to scream, but use your “I’m serious voice”.  If you have to – just stay quiet.
  2. Don’t always be the bad guy. Let Dad take the lead on the plan on weekends or after work, just to give you a break and to reassure that you are both working together.

— Sarah, Fudoo Boards

fudoo boards
This series is sponsored by Füdoo Boards.Fudoo Boards provide an exciting way for even your
preschooler to track their eating habits and instills healthy eating as well as a healthy lifestyle.

With George turning one this week, he has also become mobile. The two boys are already pushing and shoving, fighting over toys. I know the coming year will bring one a whole different set of struggles between the two of them.

sibling rivalry and fighting

I have found that keeping them occupied with activities, crafts or art, does help. But I can’t possibly keep them that busy all the time, nor would I want to. Free play is important. I can already see during that free play is when the fighting happens. I’m glad I’m in good company and Amy is struggling with this same type of acting out with her two boys.

My two young boys want to fight, wrestle, kick, hit, and bite each other all the time. If we don’t keep them busy with activities they revert to this behavior. I know that boys’ brains are wired to need physical activity and competition but it can get quite exhausting coming up with other activities for them to do all day. Also, I don’t want to be a referee for the rest of their lives. Do you have any suggestions for channeling this energy into a more positive direction?– asked by Amy K.

This week’s advice and helpful tips come from all four experts:

Parenting Expert (Erin from The Intentional Parent) :I think I could have written this question, it must be a boy thing! I have two boys, and I know how frustrating and exhausting it can be. Here is what worked for me (although in fairness, we do still have a healthy level of competition around here!) Of course how you handle it depends slightly on their ages (and the age gap between them) but assuming that they are both relatively close in age, I would let them handle their own squabbles as possible. Allowing them to work out their own problems teaches problem solving, negotiation, compromise, and all kinds of valuable life skills. But this doesn’t mean a free for all. I would set some ground rules ahead of time (not during the fight) such as no biting, hitting or kicking. They may need a few reminders, but once they get the rules, then when they fight take a step back and let them handle it.Another option which worked great for me as a means to channel all of that little boy energy, was that I bought them large inflatable bats (foam noodles would also work) and Socker Boppers and give them lots of  opportunity to play fight safely (not when they are actually fighting).  This provides a great outlet for all of that energy, and takes most of the steam out of their actual fights.

— Erin, The Intentional Parent

Lifestyle Expert (Sarah from Füdoo Boards) :You are right. Boys are wired for more physical behavior, and they show it in their play.
There are two questions I have:

  1. How old are the boys? Is one of them preschool age, 3-5 years old?
  2. Are they playing this aggressively with others or just with each other?

As far as suggestions for you, we need to think BIG – large motor skills and outside if possible.

  1. Big Projects. Use large wooden blocks, or better yet, larger cardboard blocks and build towers.  Remind them to be careful to not knock anything over. This can help them practice control of their bodies. Build outside if you can.
  2. Target practice.  Get a big box and open the lid. Have the boys grab their Nerf footballs and take aim at the open box. Give them place markers so they stand apart and you stand behind the box to return the balls.
  3. Did you ever use a refrigerator or dishwasher box as a playhouse when you were young? You can usually ask at an appliance store for a box or just keep your eyes open around town and grab one that is out for recycling. If you have room get two. You will have to cut the windows and doors for the boys, but let them use crayons to decorate them anyway they want. Remind them that if they are not too rough in their new hangouts they will last a long time.
  4. YogaKids. I have a favorite yoga video my kids have been using since they were 2-3 years old. This video has children practice poses like the volcano and the lion that helps to push energy out. It also has a quiet time at the end. The video is made for children, but you can do it too! Enjoy!
  5. Zero exposure to violent themed TV shows, movies and video games. Enough said here.
  6. Monitor their play. I can see the transition from fun to fight when my boy, now 8, wrestles with friends his own age. I watch their faces. It is important to stop the physical play once it switches to fighting (with anger). It’s time to talk about it and then let them back into it for another try.
  7. Cozy time for Mom. Let your boys know you are tired and just want to get cozy with them for a few minutes. Sit down on the couch or your bed and snuggle up in the pillows with each other. Rub their backs and talk about how good it feels to relax. If your time hasn’t run out, have them pick out a book to read.

— Sarah, Fudoo Boards

This is the end goal, of course.
Two happy boys, enjoying their playtime together.

brothers, preschoolers getting along

Your Unwanted Behaviors:

  • Adult Differences : What do you do when other people try and manage your child’s behaviors… even though their expectations for your child (and other children) are not developmentally appropriate? Or you have a different opinion regarding what the behavior should be in the particular situation?
  • Gender Awareness : What do you do when a child in your class seems to be a little too aware of private parts & boy/girl relationships?
  • Acting Out (see above for experts’ advice) :
    • My 2 yr old, otherwise well behaved, has started to change. She is getting stubborn and demands things to be in a certain way in public or else she raises her voice and if she gets angry she raises her hand on me too.
    • My two young boys want to fight, wrestle, kick, hit, and bite each other all the time. Do you have any suggestions for channeling this energy into a more positive direction?
  • Nagging Questions (next week’s topic!): How do I limit my children from asking the same question over and over?

(Do you have a question that wasn’t listed? Submit your Raising Kids is Tough questions and I’ll post them throughout the month on the hands on : as we grow Facebook page!)

These four experts are very generous for giving their time to answer these questions on hands on : as we grow. Please check out their websites. Thank you experts for your extensive knowledge!

Thank you to all the readers who have submitted questions!

This series is sponsored by Fudoo Boards.

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  1. Ms Bibi says

    My boys are now 9 and 14 so the tantrums are behind us, but now the teenage hormones are starting to shows their ugly head.

    I also learned that my behavior affects their behavior and it is so much easier dealing with teenager knowing this. Many times I have to step back, take a deep breath and change my mood and approach….

  2. Alex says

    We are so in the same boat :-/ with our 3 year old boys!!! A few weeks ago I felt like I was at my end, went out & picked up Happiest Toddler on the Block & got some helpful tips, but it was also good because it gave me a new zeal to be more consistent which is my biggest problem. And for the past two weeks I don't know if he's gotten better or have, but knock on wood I'm not going to bed wanting to pull my hair out.

  3. Anonymous says

    Love your blog! Thank you for sharing this info and advice! I, too, was wondering what was so terrible about the terrible twos, until now that my son is nearly three. Cripes! I need to pass this info on. Thanks again :)

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