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Things That Affect Children's Behavior

by Rachel Pancare, studioD

Many aspects of a child's life affect his behavior. Home and school experiences play a critical role -- they shape the way a child develops socially, emotionally, physically and intellectually as well as how he learns to cope in difficult circumstances. Within these two environments, sleep, diet, peers and parent discipline each affect behavior.


According to the National Sleep Foundation, sleep is "the primary activity of the brain during early development." According to an article at CNN.com, a study published in the journal "Pediatrics" shows that "sleepy school children make crabby classmates, while students who get plenty of sleep are better behaved." The study was performed by Reut Gruber, director of the Attention Behavior and Sleep Lab at the Douglas Research Center in Quebec, Canada. For one week, half the children in a class went to bed earlier than the other half. They were healthy children with no prior sleep or behavioral issues. Teachers noticed significant differences in the children's behavior. Students who slept less were overtired, impulsive and irritable. They had much more difficulty handling their emotions. Children who got more sleep were more resilient and alert.


A child's diet can also influence his behavior. In 1970, Ben Feingold created a diet that eliminated artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners and preservatives. It was intended as a treatment for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Feingold suspected that such artificial ingredients led to hyperactivity in children. WebMD notes that "while most scientific studies have disproved Feingold's theory, some parents who have tried the elimination diet have reported an improvement in their child's behavior." A new study performed in 2007 supported the theory. Claudia Wallis, in a "Time" article titled "Hyper Kids? Cut Out Preservatives," discusses this study, which was published in the British medical journal "The Lancet." The study found that common food dyes and the preservative sodium benzoate can cause children to become hyperactive and distracted.


Peers play a powerful role in how a child behaves. Young children learn a lot about behavior through observation and often copy each other. For instance, if a child cleans up his toys in a classroom and gets positive feedback from a teacher, another child might be encouraged to clean up her toys. If a child throws food and other children laugh, another child might then want to throw food, too. Peer influence on adolescents might be even more powerful. A study performed by researchers at the University of Western Ontario and published in the July/August 2007 issue the "Child Development" journal showed that a teenager's desire to fit in and be part of a popular group played a role in his behavior. While being part of a group can lead to positive feelings and actions, being part of a deviant group can lead to riskier behaviors in adolescents.

Parent Discipline

AbilityPath.org describes the affect of consistent positive discipline on behavior in an article titled "Positive Discipline and Guidance for Children." The goal of positive discipline is to guide your child to behave in socially acceptable ways. The article reviews several parent discipline styles. The authoritarian style emphasizes obedience and might include corporal punishment. This style of discipline can lead to insecure or aggressive behavior in children and an inability to make decisions, according to the site. The neglectful style, in which parents are minimally involved with their children, can cause low self-esteem, little trust in people and trouble learning new skills. The permissive style of discipline lacks structure. Permissive parents rarely enforce rules and tend to allow children to do whatever they please. Children parented in this way may have difficulty handling their emotions and may be less mature. Lastly, an authoritative-democratic --or positive -- parenting style involves teaching children to take responsibility for their actions. Appropriate expectations and consequences are made clear. Good behavior is encouraged, modeled and supported. This type of discipline promotes self-control and influences how a child makes decisions and interacts with the world around him.

About the Author

Rachel Pancare taught elementary school for seven years before moving into the K-12 publishing industry. Pancare holds a Master of Science in childhood education from Bank Street College and a Bachelor of Arts in English from Skidmore College.

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