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Why kids act out

By Julie Rawe

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Angry outbursts may seem to come out of nowhere. But kids often act out because they’re struggling with something they don’t understand or know how to put into words. 

Here are common reasons why kids act out:

  • Anxiety: Kids often act up when they’re anxious about big changes, like a new baby at home or a death in the family. Smaller things can cause anxiety too, like a test or trouble with a friend.

  • Changes in routine: Kids may respond in anger if they feel like they don’t know what’s happening now or what will happen next.

  • Trouble with self-control: Some kids act out because they struggle to control their impulses. This makes it hard to follow directions.

  • Trouble with a school subject: When kids refuse to do schoolwork, that could be their way of saying “I don’t know how to do this.” 

Kids who act out at the end of the day may have spent the school day trying to hide their struggles. They act out to show they’re struggling and can’t find the right words to use. 

Learn more about why some kids fall apart after school

Dive deeper

What acting out looks like

Here are examples of what you might see when kids are acting out:

  • Refusing to follow rules, especially new ones

  • Not listening to you or answering questions

  • Making rude or disrespectful comments

  • Blowing up over what seem like minor things

  • Crying after getting angry

  • Acting in ways that seem younger, like throwing a tantrum

Find out why some kids keep having tantrums as they get older.

How acting out is different from being defiant

When kids act out, it can seem like they’re just being defiant. If the rules are clear, why aren’t they following them? When you try to ask about it, kids may say something like “Why are you asking me these stupid questions?”

But there’s a difference between acting out and defiance. When kids are defiant, they know the rules and make a choice not to follow them. When kids act out, they may be flooded with so much emotion that they aren’t fully aware of what they’re doing or why.

Find out what a child’s anger may be telling you .

Next steps

All kids act out from time to time. But if kids are acting out a lot, there may be something going on that they either don’t understand or don’t know how to put into words.

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  • Coming soonGoogle Classroom