I love my kids. I do.
You can probably already feel that there is a “but” coming ...
But sometimes their behavior drives me mental. I am not even kidding.
Full disclosure: These adorable little humans that I love more than life (like can’t imagine my world without them), also annoy me sometimes.
One night, after an especially long day of shenanigans, I scribbled a list of all the challenging behaviors I was seeing from my kids.
I am a Type A list lady and I guess I thought naming them would help me tame them … or at least understand them … or give me a lifeline somehow.
Their behaviors were defiant, disruptive, bratty, manipulative, and downright out to get me. Or so I sometimes felt.
I looked at my list and decided to look into why my kids were doing all the things. And two common themes emerged:
- My kids aren’t abnormal (phew). This isn’t just a my kid thing but a kid thing.
- All of these tricky, hard-to-be-with behaviors were actually growing my boys’ brains. It wasn’t all of the adjectives I conjured up in my overwhelmed mama head. It was development … literally changing the architecture of their brain like building a house.
8 Annoying Things Your Kids Do That Grow Their Brain
Here’s my list. Chances are, these maddening behaviors are on your list, too. But they aren’t for nothing.
1. They are broken records
Ever have a kiddo chasing you around the house yelling, “Mom … Mom … Mama … Mama!” only to have nothing to say when you do give focus? Or have a child who demands the same song or bedtime book over and over again?
Children love repetition. It is familiar and safe, which is comforting in a world that seems to be new and ever-changing for them. And while it can feel overwhelming to us, this is really a way for them to learn and process information and practice the skill of speaking. Repeating themselves helps children talk faster, recall and remember new words, and overall nurtures a larger vocabulary. Toddlers, especially, have brains that are in overdrive and so sometimes the repetition gives them space to recall what they wanted to say or develop their next thought. As children get older, they may imitate us because they want to be included in the conversation and this is their way of practicing social language skills.
2. They question EVERYTHING
The dreaded whys!
“Mama, why does it rain? … But why? … Why?”
And before you know it you’ve just had a fifteen-minute conversation on rain and cloud particles with your three-year-old.
These questions are actually a good sign that their prefrontal cortex is coming online. This brain muscle is responsible for problem-solving, impulse control, emotional regulation, attention and focus, predicting consequences, and planning ahead. With every why that muscle gets stronger. Children move predominately from their lower brain regions which are reactive and emotional, and the whys prime the higher, logical brain regions so that, in time, the entire brain integrates.
3. They meltdown
Over nothing and everything.
Turns out it is for good reason. The part of the brain that is wired for detecting threats and feelings is fully formed. The part of the brain responsible for regulating those feelings is immature. So when our kids feel something, it comes up and out of their bodies as some type of behavior. Meltdowns are an emotional release to help soothe the reactive parts of the brain - a sort of stress relief - so they can access and grow the raw parts of the brain. Biology is pretty cool like that.
4. They are inconsistent
My son has done this sooo many times. “I want the fire truck PJs!” Hand him the desired PJ’s and then he yells, “No, I don’t want these!” So you go to take them back and he says, “I do! I do!”
Wait, what? I am literally lost in my toddler’s verbal maze.
While making choices seems pretty standard for us because we make a zillion a day, children are still learning to identify options and make decisions. So, why can’t children just make up their minds? Well, their minds are greatly influenced by their emotions and their emotions are constantly changing (even second to second!). This is all part of the developmental process of exercising that prefrontal cortex.
5. They whine
Sometimes it is like nails on a chalkboard. Whining about what’s for breakfast. What their sister did. The way the wind blew. Everything. It can be a real trigger for us parents. Turns out, though, the whine isn’t a manipulation but a bid for emotional connection. If they were babies, they would cry. But, since they are not, they give us an elevated cry, aka the whine. This is their body’s way of saying, “Hey, I’m stuck over here in my middle brain and I need your help to make it to the top brain.”
6. They cling
When you want a second to answer the phone, to pee, cook dinner … or really anything, they demand your time and focus and it becomes diabolical when you are unable. This is the same during bedtime routines when children prolong sleep by using every trick in the book.
Children are wired to be in close proximity to their attachments - aka you. It’s how they stay safe and survive. And while we may know that us stepping away isn’t impending doom, their budding nervous systems do not. So, their clinging, as hard as it may be, is a developmental process and a good sign that they see you as secure!
7. They lie
Or so we think. But really this is another developmental moment. Our children are wired to fit into their family systems and so they are constantly evaluating: “Does what I have to say/what I do threaten attachment or draw it? Is it safe to give an answer that the adult in my life doesn’t want to hear?” When children are young, what appears to be lies is actually the way their brain processes magical and wishful thinking, and later, skill-building.
8. They push boundaries
They push and push and push. This is how they grow the parts of their brain responsible for sequencing, cause and effect, problem-solving, impulse control, self-control, and empathy. These little scientists are finding what works and what doesn’t, what is allowed and what isn’t through experimentation (or limit testing). They also watch us to see what we do when our trigger buttons are growing, which fires up the mirror neurons in their brain, and they store that information to later access in the face of their own triggers.
Having kids is sometimes like being in the circus, except there is no funnel cake at the end of the show. Yet as tricky as it can be to be with some of their challenging behaviors, most of them are nature’s way of building the brain so that they can grow into functioning adult humans.
The way we perceive our children influences how we teach and guide them. And the way we teach and guide them influences how their brain regions grow.