Dealing with our children’s behavior can get overwhelming. We don’t always know how to react and whether or not what we’re doing will help. Child behavior is one of the issues parents struggle with most. Power struggles, back talk, and constantly repeating ourselves are situations we’re all familiar with. However, before we can hope to change our kid’s behavior, we need to be aware of five things that explain why children act the way they do.

1 | Emotions drive behavior

Most of children’s behavior is driven by emotions. In other words, behavior is a physical reaction to your child’s emotions. Children rarely know how to put their feelings into words and they often struggle with the big emotions they experience. The outward expression of these emotions can therefore include what we often describe as “misbehavior.” A growing body of research suggests that behavior such as tantrums, meltdowns, and aggressiveness can often be explained by a child’s inability to manage his or her emotions. Teaching your child to identify and react to emotions is an important step that can help reduce misbehavior.

2 | Fear-based parenting doesn’t work

Jane Nielsen once said, “Get rid of the crazy idea that in order to make children do better, first you have to make them feel worse. Do you feel like doing better when you feel humiliated?” Nielsen’s quotes sums up what research has been saying for years: for a child to behave, he has to feel good.

Your relationship with your child has a great impact on his or her behavior. Using strategies that lead to a loss of trust hurt your child and also have an impact on your relationship beyond the childhood years. Punitive environments may bring immediate results, but they may also leave a long lasting negative impact on your relationship. Connecting with your child will always get you better results.

3 | Much of what we define as misbehavior is normal

Young children have a harder time with empathy, so punishing your two-year-old for refusing to share her toys or for grabbing her friend’s toys will not help her understand the lesson she’s supposed to be learning.

Much too often, we expect too much from our kids. We forget that they are kids and expect them to act like adults. We expect them to “be good.” We judge their behavior by comparing them to other kids. We expect them to conform. Understanding that each child is unique and will react to her environment in her own unique way can help change how you view misbehavior.

4 | Positive words lead to positive behavior

There are so many ways to say the same thing better. “You can watch TV after you’ve done your homework” is a positive response. “No, you need to do your homework” is a negative response. Yet the two sentences basically say the same thing. “No” is one of the most common responses favored by parents and, while it is often justified, there are many other occasions when rephrasing can influence how our children will react.

Similarly, our words shape our kids’ view of themselves. The Pygmalion or Rosenthal effect suggests that how we speak to our children shapes their self-image and can become self-fulfilling prophecies. When you repeatedly tell your son he is clumsy, he will repeatedly act clumsy. When you tell your daughter she’s difficult, she’ll act difficult. In other words, how we describe our children affects how they behave.

If you are struggling with your child’s behavior, try using positive words to describe him. Try to ignore negative behavior and give praise when he behaves appropriately and see how that goes.

5 | You can’t always change your child’s behavior and that’s okay

Your child’s behavior is not always a reflection of your parenting style. Much as we would like to control our child’s behavior, we do not always have the skills or the resources to deal with it. A study by researchers from the University of Washington found that kids’ personality traits have a significant impact on behavior. This explains why two children raised in a more or less similar environment can display large behavioral differences.

In other words, a child’s temperament has an impact on her behavior. While you may not always have the skills to change your child’s behavior, it is important to know that many free resources can help you establish an effective discipline approach and help you transform your relationship with your child.