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The Top 6 Reasons Why Preschool Children Act That Way Sometimes

Posted by on in Early Childhood
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When preschool children display poor behavior, we often try to figure out the cause so we can support better social skills. But this can be frustrating. Some children are consistently misbehaving, while others have sporadic episodes and meltdowns. I’ve found that by taking some time to observe, I can usually pin the behavior on one of six common culprits. Contrary to what it appears, the child isn’t deliberately trying to be hurtful or annoying, but instead may be...

kid talking

1. Testing the rules of a parent or caregiver. They are trying to figure out how the world works and are trying to see where the limits are, or if they exist at all. It is frustrating for adults but normal for a child to behave this way. They naturally seek boundaries, because that is what provides them with security, predictability, and balance.

Frame chair boy jumping

2. Trying to figure out the expectations in different places There are bound to be different rules at home, at school, at Grandma’s, at the neighbor's. They may feel uncomfortable until they learn what is expected where. It’s best to express rules in positive terms, so children know what it is they can do, rather than dwelling on what they can’t.

boy pouting sitting chair 359px

3. Trying to become independent. The preschool years can be a difficult time, as children are torn between wanting the security of trusted adults, but also want to be their own little person. They want to know you’re there and paying attention to them, but don’t necessarily want to listen. They alternate, unpredictably, between compliance and resistance, as the mood strikes them or their needs change. What they don’t need is unrelenting push back from adults, but rather, consistent expectations with logical consequences.

sick child

4. Not feeling well. A fever or onset of illness can cause a child to feel out of sorts, cranky, and have little patience with himself and others. It’s always smart to check for this if a child is acting differently than usual and there doesn’t appear to be any other good reason for it. He may just need a cuddle and some time at home to feel better.


5. Hungry or tired. When either of these basic needs aren’t met, we can expect outbursts and loss of control. They do not quite understand how to express what’s wrong any other way, at this age. They may have missed breakfast because everyone was in a hurry to leave the house or maybe it was a late night without much sleeping. A snack and a nap can make all the difference.

angry boy

6. Mimicking the behaviors of their parents or older siblings and not understanding which is acceptable and which isn’t. In a preschooler’s stage of cognitive development, deferred imitation is common and appropriate. They will need guidance in making good decisions about the behaviors they choose to bring to school.

Helping children deal with difficult situations is part of what we do. It takes time and patience, but well worth the effort. Smoothing out the rough spots and calming the storm makes everybody feel better.

mom hugging daughter



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Debra Pierce is professor of Early Childhood Education at Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana. Ivy Tech is the nation's largest singly accredited statewide community college systems, serving nearly 200,000 students annually.

Her professional background has always involved children, over the past 40 years, having been a primary grades teacher in the Chicago Public School system, a teacher of 3 and 4 year-olds in a NAEYC accredited preschool for 15 years, and a certified Parent Educator for the National Parents as Teachers Program.

Debra is a certified Professional Development Specialist for the Council for Professional Recognition. She has taught CDA courses to high school career/tech dual credit juniors and seniors in preparation for earning their CDA credentials. She also conducts CDA train-the-trainer events across the country and develops and teaches online CDA courses for several states, is a frequent presenter at national and state early childhood conferences, and is a Master Trainer for the states of Minnesota and Arizona. She was also awarded the NISOD Teaching Excellence Award by the University of Texas.

Debra is active in her community, supporting children's literacy and is on the board of directors of First Book in Indianapolis. Debra is a contributing author for Hamilton County Family Magazine and Indy's Child in Indianapolis.
She loves spending time with her two grandsons, Indy, who is 7 and Radley, 3.

Debra has spent the last 16 years dedicated to the success of those pursuing the CDA credential and is the author of The CDA Prep Guide: The Complete Review Manual for the Child Development Associate Credential, now in its third edition (Redleaf Press), the only publication of its kind. She hosts a website providing help and support to CDA candidates and those who train them at http://www.easycda.com
The comments and views expressed are not in collaboration or affiliation with The Council for Professional Recognition or Ivy Tech Community College.
Follow me on Twitter at /easycda

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Guest Monday, 24 June 2019