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Ch-ch-ch-changes: Common Misbehaviors (That Are Totally Normal) at Every Age

Photo by LSOphoto / iStock / 484774698
Photo by LSOphoto / iStock

By Kim DeMarchi

One of the first books many women buy when they find out they’re pregnant is What To Expect When You're Expecting. After the baby arrives, so does the next volume in the series: What to Expect the First Year.

Somewhere around two years of age, families start reaching out to me (a parenting coach) for advice—the books aren’t quite enough anymore. They’ll tell me that their toddlers are constantly misbehaving. Their once totally adorable, dependent, and compliant little baby now refuses to eat certain foods, wakes up at night, acts impulsively, refuses to share, says ‘no’ all the time, and does the opposite of what is asked.

Here’s the thing: Just like learning to sit, crawl, and walk, the above behaviors are perfectly normal developmental milestones. The difference is that when babies take their first steps (a move toward independence), we smile and clap. When they don’t do what we ask (also a move towards independence), we may frown or yell.

I believe that it’s tremendously empowering for parents to know what behaviors are developmentally appropriate at each age, because it helps prepare them for the behavior changes that are coming. Knowing the sorts of things children might do, think, and say at different stages can help parents see many “misbehaviors” for what they are: a normal part of a young child’s physical, social, emotional, or cognitive development.

Developmental ages and stages continue with each passing year. It’s helpful to keep these in mind as your child enters elementary school and the pre-teen years, because our children will continue to exhibit behaviors that you may find—to put it bluntly—totally annoying. Here are a few of the common ones at each year in a child’s development.

Common Difficult Behaviors at Every Age

~3 years           

Makes commands like, "Don't look at me" or "Don't talk"

Can't always distinguish between reality and fantasy

~4 years       

Asks "why?" incessantly

Uses potty words such as "poo-poo head"

~5 years          

May take things that don't belong to him

Tends to be more brash, combative, or explosive

~6 years           

Has difficulty accepting criticism

Scalp is very tender and sensitive (for all you that have daughters that whine when you brush their hair)

~7 years         

Easily distracted at mealtime

Worries that others don’t like him

~8 years        

Is accident prone

May refuse to take baths

~9 years        

Has mood swings

Wants more freedom

~10 years      

Difficulty being the brunt of a joke

Asks personal questions

~11 years    

May cheat

Loves to argue

~12 years      

Friends are crucial

May not want to be touched in public

Books Kim Recommends

On my shelves, there is a series of books called Your One-Year-Old through Your Ten- to Fourteen-Year-Old by Louise Bates Ames. They offer great insights into what children at various ages are feeling and thinking, and how parents can best respond to their ever-changing sons and daughters. The books date to the 1980s, but they are still wonderfully accurate and can be found at your public library and most bookstores.

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