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  • Writer's pictureCrmen Zajicek

What Parents Need to Know About Young Children Who “Act Up”

a girl acting up in the supermarket and the parents are confronting her strictly

Children act up. They hit other people. They speak disrespectfully. They interrupt. They drive their parents crazy. But why do they do it?

This blog discusses what different facets of psychology and neuroscience have to say about it. 

Polyvagal Theory

According to Stephen Porges, a psychiatry professor at UNC, our behaviors take shape in the autonomic nervous system – far beyond our awareness. Our brain makes the decisions before we even know it. 

The Polyvagal Theory by Porges tells us that our children’s behavior is not motivated through a reason to get or do something. Instead, it’s a manifestation of a child’s physiology. The physiology depends on the input they get from the vagus nerve. 

When the child is happy and engages socially, the vagus nerve becomes active, and the child responds well. However, when the child feels threatened, the sympathetic nerve induces a fight or flight response and anxiety.

The crux is that our nerves perceive things about us and alters a physiological state before our conscious thought can work on it.

Autonomic States

Children are way younger than their parents. The difference in this power dynamic can put a child in a constant state of scrutiny. This state pushes children to raise their bars and be defensive by throwing tantrums and showing aggression.

When children disagree, their physiological state changes. They express that change to anyone who’s in proximity with them. Most parents don’t understand the motivation behind their child’s actions and think that disciplining the child is the best way out. But that’s not the case.

a person calming a puppy, just like how parents should calm their kids when they act up

Children Are Like Puppies

To feel safe, children need cues that they’re safe. It doesn’t mean that a parent should say that, ‘you’re safe around me.’ Instead, imagine having a puppy and how you’d make it feel safe. That’ll be through soft talk and slow movements to reiterate the message.

As a parent, you shouldn’t treat your kid as a sophisticated person with a mature rational. Treating them like puppies would take them a lot further in terms of discipline. 

Be Present with Your Child

It can change everything. If your children are acting up, make sure that you spend time with them instead of fighting or arguing. Spending an extra minute or two will calm your kid down and make them feel safe around you. 

You may feel frustrated but know that your children are struggling in their initial years, and they need your support. If you do this, you won’t think that their tantrums are defiant. Instead, you’ll see them as an opportunity to help them grow.

a mother consoling her child and spending time with him

A Good Preschool

If you’re in New Britain, PA, admit your child in Abacus Montessori Academy. We provide your child or Montessori toddler with the perfect opportunity to strive in a conducive environment to learn and interact with other children. We offer a range of programs and exciting summer camp opportunities for your kids! Come in for a tour or contact our academy for more information about day care center New Britain.

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