Skip to main content

6 effective ways to talk to your child about their inappropriate behavior

Have you been out with your young child and your precious little one decided, while standing in the checkout line — with everyone staring at you — that this was the best time to throw a toy and scream? Or has your slightly older child decided, in the middle of a busy store, to let that cuss word (not heard from you, of course) slip?

Whether they mean it or not, kids sometimes act extremely inappropriately at the worst possible time. Okay, maybe sometimes they do it on purpose to get a rise out of you. But how you react to these fun situations will show your child how to deal with their emotions in the future. Let’s go over how to talk to your child about inappropriate behavior so the next time it’s a little easier for everyone.

A young girl screaming in the middle of the grocery store.

What is inappropriate behavior for kids?

What exactly is inappropriate may differ parent by parent, but there are general rules that most can agree on. We’re sure you could add about 50 more to these lists, but since every child is different and not all children display every inappropriate behavior (thank goodness), we’re going with some of the more common ones.

For younger kids

  • biting
  • spitting
  • hitting
  • screaming/yelling back
  • throwing tantrums

For older kids

  • stealing
  • destroying property
  • lying
  • cursing
  • being disrespectful towards teachers/parents/adults/family
  • cheating in school
A mother talking caompassionately with her child.

What causes inappropriate child behavior?

You never know what could set a child off. But to stop that gross behavior, you have to find out what caused it and why your child is doing it.

Key causes

  • neglect
  • peer pressure
  • mimicking another child/sibling
  • not knowing how to properly deal with emotions

Most times your child isn’t trying to make you pull out your hair by demonstrating bad behavior. Likely it’s a feeling your kid hasn’t dealt with yet and doesn’t know any other way to express.

Another big reason why children act inappropriately is that they feel pushed out of the spotlight. Kids are so smart and know they can draw attention back to themselves in a hurry with a spitball or a scream.

What other factors should you think about?

When a child acts out and is being a bit rotten, it isn’t always for the reason you think. What else has happened in this kid’s life?

Things to ask yourself about the child:

  • Did he have a life change?
  • Is there a new sibling?
  • Has she recently moved?
  • Did he start a new school?
  • Did her parents split up?

Any change in a child’s routine can make them turn to aggressive and even disgusting behavior. If your child is going through a life change, no matter how small it might seem, you need to talk it through before it happens, as it’s happening, and add that important follow-up after some time has passed.

A child giving a thumbs down.

What do you do when your child seems inappropriate?

Parents want to yell right back, ground for weeks, take away every privilege, and send kids to their room for unruly behavior. Sometimes parents want to laugh because even if your child said something wrong, it was funny. But this doesn’t solve anything. You need to be the responsible adult. Here are the ways you should talk it out instead.


Don’t ignore it

You have to face whatever it is your child is doing. Don’t not talk about it.

Don’t overreact

Deep, calming breaths. No yelling. No screaming. No shouting. No anger. You were a handful yourself once.

Don’t make your child feel embarrassed

You might feel embarrassed if your child says or does something a bit on the bad side in public. That’s fine. But don’t make your child feel that way. Don’t say anything to induce shame. Try to find the funny in it, but don’t laugh at what happened either. Save that for after bedtime.


Do speak it out

Talk to your child, not at your child. Treat your kiddo like a little adult. Even with children who are younger and can’t fully express themselves yet, you can still explain why what they did was incorrect. Kids just want to be treated like actual people.

Do stay consistent

You can’t punish your child when he says something improper one time and then talk it out the next. It’s confusing for your child and doesn’t help him know which the best way is to manage his behavior.

Do positively reinforce

If your kid has made progress in not doing the gross behavior, recognize it. Praise goes a long way. Let your child know you’ve noticed she’s trying hard to stop her behavior. Stock up on her favorite food, snacks, or a whole lot of hugs — whatever motivates your child.

We never want to see a child feel like acting inappropriately is the only way to get those tough feelings across. We only want a child to know how to express feelings through healthy communication. If you ever feel overwhelmed and think you need backup, there’s nothing wrong with talking to your child’s doctor or therapist.

Tough conversations will be a common occurrence the older your mini gets. It’s a learning process that you can work through together and come out with a stronger understanding of each other. If you calmly approach your child with honest dialogue, you can work through the inappropriate behaviors together. Or at least keep the cringe-y situations to a minimum.

Editors' Recommendations

Dannielle Beardsley
Dannielle has written for various websites, online magazines, and blogs. She loves everything celebrity and her favorite…
See your child pecking at the keyboard? Try these typing games for kids to build this important skill
Introduce these typing games for kids as soon as possible to get your child's skills to a whole new level
Group of kids around laptops

Learning how to type is as important of a skill in a school’s curriculum as other foundations like reading and math. Technology has become an integral part of our lives in everything from work to school, where everything has some degree of it built into the daily routine. Proper typing is a vital skill that everyone should have, regardless of their occupation.

And, if you've ever texted with a kid, you know that their typing isn't always the best. If your child is doing the chicken pecking dance at the keyboard, there are typing games for kids to increase their speed, accuracy, and confidence. Here's why having great typing skills is something every child needs to have.
How typing relates to student success
With all the devices we have these days, are you ever not typing? Walk into a classroom, and you might see a few students finger tapping at the keyboard. Proper typing proves to be a time-saving skill, and sometimes it takes kids a minute to get there.

Read more
What does the chickenpox look like? Here’s how to know you’re about to be in for an itchy time
Is your child scratching at a rash? Then what does chickenpox look like is a question you need answered
A mother applying cream to her child while they both are in bed

Most parents these days don't have to worry about their child getting chickenpox, thanks to the success of the vaccine. But there's still a possibility your child could catch it if they can't get vaccinated. If that's your little one, what does chickenpox look like so you know how to take care of it? Here's the rundown if it's been a minute since you've had to deal with this type of pox.
What to be on lookout for
The main symptoms

Itchy rash accompanied by bumps
Blisters filled with liquid
Lots of scabs after the blisters pop
Blotchy-looking skin

Read more
How to get your toddler to take medicine – try this simple hack
Here's one way to get your sick toddler to take their medicine
Giving toddler medicine

There's nothing worse as a parent than having a sick child, except for having a sick child who refuses to take medicine. If you've ever watched your toddler immediately spit out a mouthful of medicine that you know will make them feel better, or refuse to open their mouth at all, then you can relate. Battling a sick toddler isn't fun.

Unfortunately, kids are magnets for germs and sometimes it's necessary to give them medicine to help them feel better. Having a sick toddler can mean sleepless nights not only for your child but for you as well, and medicine can often make them feel well enough to get the rest they need to recover. Thankfully, forums like Reddit exist where parents share their simple hacks to get toddlers to take medicine that you won't believe you didn't think of first. Keep reading to learn this easy hack to get kids to take medicine.
The juice pouch
Reddit can be a wealth of information when it comes to a lot of different things, including parenting hacks that can make your life easier. Redditor HootsWereHad recently posted a simple yet effective method to get a sick toddler to take cold medicine that involves nothing more than a delicious juice pouch.

Read more