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Why Does My Child's Behaviour Change?

By: Beth Morrisey MLIS - Updated: 30 Dec 2015 | comments*Discuss
Child Parent Nervous Behaviours

Q.I am a nanny and I am wondering why is that when the child is with me, she never sucks her thumb but with her mother she does. Her behaviour is great with me, but with her mother she is constantly whining, and out of control. Why is this?

(Ms Nicole Bushert, 9 September 2008)


There may be many causes for a change in a child’s behaviour but often it is down to one of two main reasons: because of changing emotions of which a child may not be conscious or able to verbalise or because it is a learned behaviour that the child knows will result in a particular outcome.

The return of “nervous behaviours” such as thumb sucking, nail biting, hair chewing or bed wetting can often signal that a child is uncomfortable, frustrated or afraid of something. The child may not be able to explain these feelings, but the behaviour is either a reaction to them or their way of coping with them. There are also a variety of “attention seeking” behaviours to which a child may resort when (s)he feels bored or left out. Whining and acting out of control may both be examples of such behaviours.

However, it can not be forgotten that a child’s behaviour with a particular person, during a particular activity or in a particular location is often a learned behaviour. A child will learn very quickly who will tolerate what behaviour and which actions will help him or her get what he or she wants in a particular situation. In this case it may be that the child has learned that the whining and thumb sucking gets him or her whatever he or she wants from the mother, whether it is physical items or more of the mother’s attention.

If you are concerned about the child’s changes in behaviour then you may want to bring it to the attention of the child’s parents. Coming together to discuss preferred methods of discipline for inappropriate behaviour, and ways to support the child in overcoming nervous behaviours, will help everyone come together to work for the good of the child. This should not be a conversation that seeks to blame individuals for their methods of interacting with the child, but rather to get everyone on the same page about how to move forward with the child’s best interests at heart. It may not be an easy conversation between a child care provider and parents, but it is important and very necessary. Good luck!

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I really need some advice. I'm so dumbfounded by my 5 year old son's recent behavior that I am at a total loss on what to do. I also have a 1 year old daughter, their father and I are separated. 3 weeks ago my son had a weird obsession with eggs, I would find them in his room, catch him sneaking them from the fridge...last week it changed to knives, my 1 year old came walking through the living room with a butcher knife!There are placed out of reach, he told me he climbed onto the counter top, another thing he knows he should not do. 2 days after that, we were watching a movie on the couch together and I look over at him and has a pairing knife! I take it ask him what he is doing, he says nothing...have yet another talk. Now this week another odd behavior, he's peeing in random places around the house and yet again tonight I caught him with a butter knife while in his bedroom alone with his baby sister. I've noticed he's been telling really strange stories here lately, lying and comparing everything to numbers, like I'll ask if he's upset and he'll say "yes I'm sad, I'm 643 sad mom". I'm so lost and upset because I'm starting to think back to other things that were "not normal " in the past and wonder if I missed something. He's had night terrors since age 2, he's been not just mean to his sister at times, but mean in a way I don't get, like she was maybe a month old, he took a big full glass of ice water, snuck in her room and poured it over her face, even though he got a timeout and talked to, he still did that similar thing twice more. Can someone please tell me if I'm being dramatic or if I should get him to a doctor. I'm a single mom of 2 with no real friends or family support and I'm getting really scared something is terribly wrong.
Taylor - 30-Dec-15 @ 9:59 AM
My nephew is 30 - we have recently found out that he is hurting animals - he has viciously hurt them when no one was around. He loses his temper but turns it onto things like his car, and he smashed up all his christmas presents following an argument over the cat. His girlfriend thinks he hurt this - in addition to the others but she almost caught him and again he lied to her but she saw through the lies based on the other cats injuries. He tells lots of lies, makes up excuses over almost everything he questioned on and as long as I can remember, he has told lies. He recently spent 9 months of a prison term along with his girlfriend as their 9 month old child suffered fractures that went unexplained, each blaming the other. I suspect he has an undiagnosed serious illness - he also has attachment issues whenever he breaks up with a girl............what can we do ? where can we turn ? His mother continually supports him and I think she is in denial of his bad behaviour refusing to even entertain the idea that he is capable of the injuries the baby suffered - the baby was adopted and removed from them thank heavens.
shabby - 27-Dec-15 @ 6:04 PM
Our grandson has recently begun primary school and his behaviour has changed rapidly . He is demanding , loud , wants to control all situations. Rewards and the usual timeout stratagems seem not to work. He is also misbehaving in school. How can we bring back the nice child ? He says he likes school and his teacher . He appears to miss the routines/people of his time before school.
Midge - 6-Nov-15 @ 10:27 AM
Hi Our 5 year old daughter's behaviour has deteriorated at home since she started back at school in September. she's generally polite and lovely,and well behaved. But sometimes when she's asked to do certain things she will fly into a rage and shout and scream at us. She will flap her arms as if to hit us, and will slam doors, stamp her feet, and make silly noises. For example, this morning she didn't have a proper wash before school so I asked her to go and wash her face again - she did everything I've mentioned - shouting at me, slamming the door in my face etc. At school she's never in trouble, and they say she's very bright and extemely well behaved. she has lots of friends, most of who seem lovely so I don't think she's picking up behaviour from them. She seems to want to be with us/around us but when we ask her to do something she just blows up! We've tried taking away toys when she does this, using a time out step, and all sorts of other things but nothing seems to work. Any help would be really appreciated!
Sarah - 11-Dec-13 @ 12:21 PM
My older daughter is 4.5 yrs and the younger is 1 yr. Ever since the birth of the second one, the older daughter has been showing (& doesn't seem to be ending) sibling rivalry sort of behavior. She wants more and more of Mummy time and she is getting very loud in her conversations, behaves like a baby such as crawling, screaming, crying. Me and my my wife have given and continue to give lot of attention & time to the older child (many a times at the cost of the younger one), but even after almost 1 year, the older one is not showing much improvement. She now refuses to sleep on her own and creeps into our bed every night. We have tried moving the younger child into another room but this hasn't yet made much difference to the older one's habit. She constantly shows her nervousness by biting her nails and, chewing her hair. Her constant need for attention and frequent very loud tantrums is causing lot of stress. Please advise. thank you.
VB - 25-Feb-13 @ 12:21 PM
I would like some tips I can use to help children learn social skills.
FATS - 16-Nov-12 @ 2:03 PM
My child is experiencing all sorts of behaviour problems. He is only 3yrs old he and sometime has really positive behaviour then all of a sudden he switches and shows aggressive behaviour. We have did everything to outcome this. He attends nursey 4 days a week and reacts the same. What can be wrong? He lashes out, lacks concentration and reacts quite aggressive towards adults and other children.
miss p - 1-Jun-11 @ 10:24 PM
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