All children act out. That's a fact. But here are six behavioral problems you shouldn't overlook—and how you can put an end to them pronto.
Each product we feature has been independently selected and reviewed by our editorial team. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.

All children act out. That's a fact. From tantrums and meltdowns to general defiance, these behaviors are normal. Natural. They are a part of growing up. But how do you know if your child's behaviors are cause for concern? Here are six (seemingly insignificant) behavioral problems which you should be on the lookout for, and how you can nip them in the bud.

Interrupting When You're Talking 

Your child may be incredibly excited to tell you something or ask a question, but allowing them to butt in to your conversations doesn't teach them how to be considerate of others or occupy themselves when you're busy. "As a result, they'll think that they're entitled to other people's attention and won't be able to tolerate frustration," says psychologist Jerry Wyckoff, Ph.D., coauthor of Getting Your Child From No to Yes.

The next time you're about to make a call or visit with a friend, tell your child that she needs to be quiet and not interrupt you. Then, settle them into an activity or let them play with a special toy that you keep tucked away. If they tugs on your arm while you're talking, point to a chair or stair and tell them quietly to sit there until you're finished. Afterward, let them know they won't get what they're asking by interrupting.

Playing Too Rough 

You know that you have to step in when your child punches a playmate, but you shouldn't disregard more subtle aggressive acts, like shoving his brother or pinching a friend. "If you don't intervene, rough behavior can become an entrenched habit by age eight. Plus, it sends a message that hurting people is acceptable," says Parents adviser Michele Borba, Ed.D., author of Don't Give Me That Attitude!: 24 Rude, Selfish, Insensitive Things Kids Do and How to Stop Them.

Confront aggressive behavior on the spot. Pull your child aside and tell them, "That hurt Janey. How would it feel if she did that to you?" Let him know that any action that hurts another person is not allowed. If they act out again, end the playdate.

Pretending Not to Hear You 

Telling your child two, three, even four times to do something they don't want to do, such as get into the car or pick up her toys, sends the message that it's okay to disregard you and that they—not you—are running the show. "Reminding your child again and again just trains them to wait for the next reminder rather than to pay attention to you the first time around," says psychologist Kevin Leman, Ph.D., author of First-Time Mom: Getting Off on the Right Foot—From Birth to First Grade. "If you allow the behavior to continue, your child is likely to become defiant and controlling."

Instead of talking to your child from across the room, walk over to them and tell them what they need to be doing. Make sure you both make eye contact and that they respond by saying, "Okay, Mommy." If they do not get moving, impose a consequence.

Helping Himself to a Treat 

It's certainly convenient when your child can get his own snack or pop in a DVD, but letting him have control of activities that you should regulate doesn't teach him that he has to follow rules. "It may be cute when your 2-year-old walks along the counter to get the cookies out of the cabinet, but just wait until he's eight and goes to visit a friend who lives three blocks away without asking," Dr. Wyckoff says.

Establish a small number of house rules and talk about them with your child often. If your child turns on the TV without permission, for instance, tell him to turn it off and say, "You need to ask me before you turn on the television." Stating the rule out loud will help him internalize it.

An image of an angry little girl sitting on a couch.
Credit: Getty Images.

Having a Little Attitude 

You may not think your child is going to roll their eyes or use a snippy tone until they are a preteen, but sassy behavior often starts when preschoolers mimic older kids. This is done to test their parents' reaction. "Some parents ignore it because they think it's a passing phase, but if you don't confront it, you may find yourself with a disrespectful third-grader who has a hard time making and keeping friends," Dr. Borba says.

Make your child aware of their behavior. Tell them, for example, "when you roll your eyes like that, it seems as if you don't like what I'm saying." The idea isn't to make your child feel bad but to show her how she looks or sounds. If the behavior continues, you can refuse to interact and walk away. 

Exaggerating the Truth 

While it may not seem like a big deal if your child says they made their bed when they barely pulled up the covers, it's important to confront any type of dishonesty. "Lying can become automatic if your child learns that it's an easy way to make themselves look better, if they learn it's an easy way to avoid doing something and/or if they realize that—in lying—they can avoid punishment," Dr. Wyckoff says.

When your child fibs, sit down with them and set the record straight. Let them know that if they don't tell the truth, people won't believe what they says. And look at their motivation for lying to ensure they do not achieve their goal[s]. For example, if your child said that they brushed their teeth when he didn't, have them go back and brush them. 

Parents Magazine