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4 Reasons Why Kids Misbehave

Laura Kuehn, LCSW
Written by Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Parents who are looking for the reasons why their kids misbehave need to look no further than these 4 motivators of misbehavior.

Understanding the fact that all kids misbehave is not hard to do. Trying to figure out why is a whole different story. Sometimes you may feel that you need a secret decoder ring to figure it all out. Some parents give up all together, feeling that their efforts in this area are futile. Please don’t give up! Discovering the underlying motivation of your child’s misbehavior is one of the most helpful parenting tools in your toolbox.

According to social psychologist, Rudolf Dreikurs there are 4 main reasons why kids misbehave:


Power and control


Display of inadequacy

Each of the terms above links to an article that explores each of these reasons why kids misbehave in more detail. We will examine what each looks like and feels like to you in “real life.” We will then use that information to give suggestions on what you can do about it.

In the 1970’s, Don Dinkmeyer and Gary McKay used these four motivators of misbehavior as the basis for their parent training manual entitled, The Parent’s Handbook (STEP: Systematic Training for Effective Parenting). It contains helpful information for parents on parenting styles, child development, and discipline. It uses plain language with lots of illustrative examples that help equip parents to be the best they can be.

Even though the original edition of the book is out of print, it is definitely worth reading because, despite it’s age, the material it contains is still relevant and effective for today’s families.

Articles in this series:

This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for treatment from a qualified mental health professional. Cornerstones for Parents is not liable for any advice, tips, techniques, and recommendations the reader chooses to implement.

About Laura

Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Laura is a licensed therapist who offers individual and parent counseling to residents of Connecticut. Cornerstones for Parents is the place she combines some of her favorite things: writing, parenting and God's word. She is happily married with a young adult son and a teenage daughter.

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  • Hi. I know this article was published years ago, but I’m having a really difficult time with my 6 1/2year old daughter. She is my middle child and after reading all of your articles in this series she display if not 100% at least 99% and I don’t know where to start. Please if you could show me some guidance of how to go about it since she displays so many of them I would really appreciate it. Thanks in advance

    • Hi Paula,

      Yes, it is an older article, but I still monitor this site and provide support to parents through the comment section when I can. I am sorry that you are having such struggles with your 6 1/2 year old daughter. For a child who is demonstrating many, if not all of, the motives of misbehavior, I would start with identifying which area is causing the most disruption to your family unit. Is the attention seeking behavior causing her presence to dominate over her siblings? Or is her revenge seeking creating an unsafe environment? I would sit down and make a list of all of the troubling behaviors – just make a list as they pop into your mind. Then see if you can categorize the problems. For example, you may write, “won’t listen,” and “does what she wants.” Both reflect a lack of submission. Figure out what is causing the most disruption and start there. Often parents find that working on one area translates into others naturally anyway. Also, in this sort of situation a “clean slate” may be needed. I would try a behavior chart. Basically, you take away all of the “extras” in her life and she earns them back by working toward goals that you set together. You can read a little more about my approach to behavior charts and my suggestions here and here.

      I hope that helps get you headed in the right direction.

      God bless,