When Your Child Deliberately Annoys Others

Do you hear from other moms and dads, educators, or other kids that your youngster disrupts activities and deliberately annoys others? It can be a tough pill to swallow, but the best solution is to help your youngster develop better social skills.

When someone says your youngster is intentionally bothering others, it’s common for parents to feel defensive or even angry. However, once you’re done reacting, step back and work on ways to help your youngster correct his/her behavior and improve social skills.

Here are some tips to help your child stop his or her annoying behaviors:

1. When your youngster frequently annoys other children or grown-ups, it can be a frustrating, puzzling circumstance. Some kids do it for attention, while others aren’t aware that they are being a pest. As a mother or father, you may not have all the answers, and that’s OK. Reach out to your youngster’s educators and guidance counselor. In some cases, your youngster may benefit from an evaluation with a child behavior specialist.

2. Be firm and kind. Follow through every time on the natural or logical consequences.

3. Have a few positively stated rules, and explain the reasons behind them.

4. If there are lots of behaviors you want to change, start by focusing on one or two of the most bothersome or dangerous ones. Don't try to make too many changes all at once.

5. If your youngster struggles with understanding feelings, start with basic terms. You can slowly build your youngster’s vocabulary as he develops more nuanced language about emotions. Using a chart or book with basic facial expressions may help for younger children who are having trouble grasping concepts (e.g., annoying, embarrassed, frustrated, etc.). Some children don’t respond well to explanations. When that’s the case, try to suggest appropriate behaviors instead of explaining why the inappropriate ones are bothersome.

6. Let your youngster make decisions whenever possible by giving her acceptable choices (e.g., “Would you rather have cereal or scrambled eggs and bacon for breakfast?”).  This will help your youngster feel in control, reducing stress and frustration. 

7. Come up with a secret signal (e.g., pulling on your earlobe) and tell your child you will “cue” him with this signal whenever he’s being annoying (of course, this only works when you are in the presence of your child). It helps to have a signal with some children, which is a sly way to let them know they are bothering others. Then you aren't calling them out in front of their peers, yet they can change their behavior. Many children genuinely don’t know they are being a pest, and a simple reminder can help. So, let your youngster know when his behavior is bothersome, but don’t talk to him about it in front or others or in an embarrassing way.

8. Praise your youngster for good behavior.  The best kind of praise simply describes what you see that you would like to see more of.  Catch your youngster being good, and tell her you noticed (e.g., “I noticed you put your backpack on the table rather than throwing it on the floor; that’s you being responsible”).

9. Redirect your youngster and help him find a better place, or better way to do what he is trying to do. For instance, if his nose is irritated, have him clean it with a tissue, apply saline nasal spray, and then wash his hands. If he simply must go “digging,” have him do it in the bathroom, not in public, and wash his hands afterward.

10. Try ignoring the annoying behavior. Your youngster will probably outgrow the habit with time.  Giving a lot of attention (even though it's negative) may actually encourage the behavior.

11. Use natural or logical consequences for problem behavior. The purpose here is to get your child to make the right decision, not to bend her to your will. Be patient—it may take time for you to see results.

12. Unfortunately, parents need to understand that, in some cases, it is simply impossible to stop the annoying behavior until the youngster becomes interested in stopping.  For instance, a little boy may actually get enough “benefit” out of picking his nose and wiping his buggers on his friends that he will not be willing to stop. When he gets a little older, though, he may be interested in not grossing-out his peers. Then you will be able to help him quit.

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