Why do kids misbehave?

By Gail Belsky

Most kids misbehave from time to time. They might have a tantrum, interrupt when other people are talking, or not follow directions.

It can be hard if your child does these things a lot. You might wonder whether the behavior is typical for kids that age, or if it means something more. Or you might not realize what’s behind the behavior, and assume that your child is misbehaving on purpose.

So why do kids misbehave? Sometimes there isn’t a good reason. But many times, there is. Here are some common behaviors and why they might be happening.

Talking nonstop and interrupting

It can be great when kids enjoy sharing their thoughts and ideas. But not if they often interrupt, talk over people, and don’t give others a chance to speak. Those behaviors can turn off other kids and adults.

What you might think: Your child isn’t thinking about other people. Or, you might think your child has a lot to say and gets carried away.

What else it could be: Kids who regularly interrupt or talk nonstop might have trouble with self-control. Even if they know they’re talking too much, they may not be able to stop. They might also struggle with the social skills needed to make conversation.

Not following directions

It’s common for kids to not follow directions now and again. Maybe they weren’t listening carefully. Or maybe they just didn’t want to stop doing what they were doing. But some kids never seem to do what they’re told.

What you might think: It’s typical defiance; your child is ignoring your instructions and pushing your buttons. You might also think it’s just a phase.

What else it could be: Some kids struggle with the skills needed to follow directions. These skills are part of executive function, and they include the ability to focus, remember, plan, and stay on task.

Find out why some kids struggle to follow directions

Avoiding tasks and giving up

Kids don’t always like what they have to do, so they may sometimes put off a task or a chore. If the task is hard or really boring, they might even start it and then walk away. But some kids avoid and give up often.

What you might think: It’s laziness. Like many kids, your child just doesn't want to put the time or effort into doing certain things.

What else it might mean: Kids may avoid tasks or give up out frustration. Your child may be struggling with the skills that go into the task. Whatever the difficulty is, your child can’t put it into words. Kids may also give up on tasks because they lose focus.

Being messy and disorganized

Kids don’t pick up after themselves all the time. Or they may occasionally misplace their backpack or their jacket. But what if your child keeps losing things or never cleans up, even when you give reminders?

What you might think: Lots of kids don’t care about being tidy or organized. You didn’t either when you were a kid.

What else it might mean: Your child has trouble with organization and other executive function skills. Being organized requires the ability to plan, remember, focus, and know the steps that go into cleaning up.

Battling over homework

Homework isn’t most kids’ idea of fun, and they may sometimes lose their patience with it. Kids might complain, rush through it, or get grouchy. But some kids battle all the time over homework — crying, yelling, or refusing to do it.

What you might think: No kid wants to do homework. Arguing over it doesn’t mean there’s a problem.

What else it might mean: Your child may have difficulty with the subject matter or how to approach the work. Or it might be hard for your child to pull away from another activity and settle down and focus on boring work.


When you start to look at these behaviors in a different way, you might have questions. Take N.O.T.E. is a free, digital tool that can help you track behaviors and find answers.

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    About the author

    About the author

    Gail Belsky is executive editor at Understood. She has written and edited for major media outlets, specializing in parenting, health, and career content.

    Reviewed by

    Reviewed by

    Brittney Newcomer, MS, NCSP is the associate director of thought leadership at Understood. She has served in public schools for more than a decade as a teacher, evaluator, and curriculum manager.