What Can Affect Behavior in Children?

by Leyla Norman

Determining the cause of your child’s behavior can help you to better understand and respond to her. Sleep, diet, trauma and discipline are four important factors that determine a child’s behavior. One may play a major role in how your child behaves, but other factors may add to the issue. Consider all the possibilities when you try to find the causes of why your child is acting a certain way.


Lack of sleep is a major cause of negative behaviors in children. Children who sleep less than they should are more likely to be irritable and to act inappropriately. They are also more likely to do poorly in school than those who regularly get a good night’s sleep. Studies of children in elementary school showed that almost 40 percent of them had some kind of sleep problem and that 10 percent of them had daytime sleepiness, according to Michael J. Breus, Ph.D. of WebMD.com. Ensuring your child gets enough sleep can help prevent many negative behaviors.


Diet can also affect a child’s behavior. Consider how your child acts when he has too much sugar, for example. In addition, the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest conducted a review of 24 studies about how diet affects behavior in 1999. The review found that 17 of the studies determined that diet negatively affects the behavior of some children. Artificial colors were the main focus of many of the studies, but some focused on other foods, like milk and corn. The studies varied significantly in the percentage of children whose behavior was affected by what they consumed and how much the behavior changed. Six studies found no behavioral change due to diet.


Children can also be negatively affected by trauma. Symptoms of trauma can include irritability, mood swings, anger, fear, sadness or anxiety. Children who grow up in a stable home and who do not undergo psychological, emotional or physical trauma are much less likely to exhibit negative behaviors like these than those who do. With professional assistance, consistency and love, children can often recover from traumatic events in their lives.


Discipline plays an important role in determining a child’s behavior. How parents and caregivers react to negative behavior and how they model positive behavior also affects how a child will act. Discipline is teaching your child how to behave, what is right and what is wrong. This is different than the negativity of punishment. Consistency in expectations and follow-through are important to guiding a child to behave positively. Providing security and praise for the behaviors you want to see will help your child act respectfully.

About the Author

Leyla Norman has been a writer since 2008 and is a certified English as a second language teacher. She also has a master's degree in development studies and a Bachelor of Arts in anthropology.

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