“The children who need love the most will always ask for it in the most unloving ways.” I couldn’t agree more. 

Do you ever feel like your kids crave your attention, but show it in the worst ways? That your child is acting out for attention?

The kids who need the most love ask for it in the most unloving ways
Why do kids act out?

Do you ever hear your child talking back or acting up and wonder, “What is going on? Why does it always have to be a meltdown, a whiny voice, or an argument?”

It’s hard to remember that our kids are just that… kids. They need our time and attention, even if they don’t know how to ask.

Why do Kids Act Out?

They are young kids, only a few years old, expected to act just like us. It’s our job to teach them how to navigate their feelings.

They are so young, yet expected to have the manners of an adult

My friend, Hillary captured it perfectly when she wrote: “She is a little tiny person who, at the ripe old age of 6 is, in many ways, expected to carry herself and behave like a 26-year-old. She is supposed to know when to speak and when to be quiet. She is supposed to listen to me, her dad, her teacher, and almost any adult she comes in contact with. All the while, we expect her to make her own choices and guide her own decisions.

She sits at a desk for 6 hours a day, listening, and being quiet. Studying and taking tests. She’s figuring out who her friends are and how to be a good friend. She’s figuring out how to be a good and kind person.  She’s figuring out the things that matter in this world, all the while being expected to share her favorite Barbie with her sister.

And sometimes, sometimes, it gets to be too much for that little body and mind. And she needs to let it out…and who better to let it out on than the one person in the world with whom she knows, knows beyond a shadow of a doubt, that she is safe with us.”

How to Help Kids Act Out in a More Acceptable Way

I love the advice from Katie Malinski:  “One of the first things I tell most parents that I work with is that behavior is a communication, and that understanding the message in a child’s behavior is incredibly helpful for changing those behaviors.

To put it another way, something is behind or underneath unwanted behavior; triggering or motivating or strengthening it. Those hidden drivers are usually unmet needs of some variety. When parents can identify what those unmet needs are, they typically find that those underlying needs are needs they want to support. In other words: the behaviors are unwanted, but the needs driving those behaviors are understandable!

Children who are acting in unloving ways are likely to themselves be feeling unloved, unwanted, not valuable, incapable, powerless, or hurt. (*) The response those children need isn’t greater control, or bigger punishments, they need understanding, compassion, and support for their growth. LOVE.”

1. How to Empathize with Kids

Dr. Laura suggests:    “When parents accept and empathize with the child’s emotions, he learns that emotions aren’t dangerous and can be felt but not necessarily acted on.

Once the child can let himself experience his grief over the broken treasure, his hurt that his mother was unfair, his shame when he didn’t know the answer in class, or his fear when his classmate threatened him, those feelings begin to heal. Almost magically, since he no longer needs his anger to defend against those more vulnerable feelings, his anger evaporates, and he can move on.

By contrast, if we don’t help kids feel safe enough to feel those underlying emotions, they will just keep losing their tempers, because they don’t have any other way to cope with the upsets inside them. These kids often seem to have “a chip on their shoulder” because they walk around ready to get angry.”

2. Be a Child’s “SAFE PLACE.” 

Stay close and connected when your child is upset.

Be their safe place. If you know what’s going on, acknowledge it. Listen and try to understand.

Use words that show you understand:   “You are so angry that your tower fell.” or “You’re upset because she wouldn’t play with you.”

Then give permission to have those feelings: “It’s ok, everyone needs to cry (or gets mad, or feels very sad) sometimes. I am here for you.” If you can hold their hand or hug them, do so to maintain the connection: “You’re safe. I’m here.”

3. Stay Close Even If You Don’t Feel Like It

It may be a hard change to do these things and resist the urge to say “Go to your room until you’re ready to behave.”

However, I think it’s for the best because we are raising our kids and trying to teach them, to raise them to be caring, responsible, independent adults. Think of it like you are asking them to help you find the solution so that you can help them.

More Real Life Parenting Advice from Kids Activities Blog

Hang in there.  You’ve got this.  Take a deep breath and gain some perspective to help your child.

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  1. Im a single mamma to one and I needed to read this today, my 5.5yr old little girl is giving me all sorts of attitude atm. Reading that she may be feeling unloved just broke my heart, I have been so frustrated with her and I lost my cool today and yelled back at her and I feel so guilty for it now. I love your advice it’s actually very insightful and helpful to look at her outbursts in a different way now, thank you ?

  2. A lot of the way kids seem to be is a lot like their parents, even if they never even meet them . I’m referring to two children who came to live with me and my wife 10 years now they are 11 14 wife’s great nieces, I knew their parents not good , but these two act a lot like them it’s in the genes , not sure you can fix that , lots of things in life doesn’t turn out the way we think , great article.

  3. Overall, very interesting however I cried when it was mentioned … that children showing these behaviours are either feeling unloved… etc and my heart sank because I love my child so much it hurts. I think reading that as a single parent hurt me.

  4. I am a single mother of twin 6 year olds. I am feeling overwhelmed And I get very snippy with my kids. They talk over me and each other and they are constantly fighting. They whine and cry for seemingly no reason and I try to be calm and help but they want attention 24/7 and I don’t have enough of me to give them. I’m at a loss at what to do to help. I’m already so burnt out.

  5. Our 33 yr daughter now a widow raising 4 sons (13, 8 and autistic, 7 and 3) having an extremely difficult time, this is now a disfunctional family with grief anger and no discipline loosing all control? and she is broken?

  6. Im a step parent to a very challenging 14 year old and my husband and I are are still struggling with his attitude and his lying and stealing. Not sure what else to do. His biological mother hadn’t even tried to contact him since he was maybe 8 or 9.

  7. I’m a man, a single parent, I’m so lucky, that one of my sister is helping me to rise my kids, I find this article very interesting and helpful. I will like to learn more, and became a better father. Please help us with more ideas or more articles like these. Thank you so much and God bless you!!!

    1. Hi, Noe! It sounds like you and your family are doing an amazing job with your kiddos! We are so glad that you find our content helpful. Thank you for your kind message!

  8. I love this advice but what do you do when you child is in a spiral of disrespect aimed at you? I feel I try to handle his temper towards his siblings with compassion where I am able but when he is rude to me I find it very difficult. This morning I went to brush his teeth before school and he told me off because he was watching tv and said to him we don’t have time to watch tv because we are running late and I need to brush his teeth because I love him and want to look after him. To which he retorted “you are Sh*t” we don’t swear, he’s been learning lots of aweful words from school but I tried to stay calm and said that was unkind and hurtful he needs to apologise, he kept carrying on so I ended up putting him outside as I needed a break to be honest and I hoped the break would show I was serious that respect is a nonnegotiable?