“Naughty behaviour”

Parent Information

The normal range

So-called “naughty” behaviour is another common concern for parents. This can be the preschool aged child who is refusing to follow parent requests, being physically or verbally aggressive or the older child or adolescent who may be getting into trouble at school. Some “misbehaviour” is part of the normal range, when children or adolescents refuse to follow some reasonable adult requests or break rules, this needs to be considered in the context of what is normal for the child’s age and development.

What is “underneath” the behaviour

Many different problems can underlie these behaviours including anxiety, depression, trauma, family stress and problems with impulse control. Sometimes a sustained pattern of “naughty” behaviour that continues when other factors are addressed is described by a diagnosis of Oppositional Defiant Disorder or (when more severe) Conduct Disorder. While difficulties in the relationship between parents and the child are associated with these behaviours, this is almost never what parents (or the child) started out wanting. Both parent and child are often caught in “vicious cycles” where the parent wants to change what the child is doing but their efforts are not working. No one wants the situation and blame is neither accurate nor helpful.

Almost always more than one factor is leading to the behaviour.

When to seek help

When the pattern of “naughty behaviour” is sustained over time and more than normal for that child’s age, assessment is indicated. Early intervention that includes the family and may include school is one of the most effective ways to improve the child’s outcome. Initially assessment is with your General Practitioner who may then refer to other health professionals.


Getting a clear picture of what is happening in interactions between the child and those around them can help, sometimes simply recognising what is going on is enough to prevent secondary problems such as getting into trouble and being labeled as a “naughty child” even when not misbehaving (rather than the child being known as much more than one pattern of behaviour). At other times, treatment is useful when the child’s difficulties are outside the normal range and/or do not settle within a few weeks.

Treatment for any problem that is triggering or making the unsettled or “naughty” behaviour harder to manage is crucial (such as treating anxiety, depression or ADHD). Therapy that addresses the child or adolescent’s behaviour through improving relationships and enhances parents’ resources are the treatments that have been shown to work best when children present with “naughty behaviour”.

For more information

If you think your child is experiencing more difficulties with attention, concentration or “naughty behavior” than is normal for their age it is important to seek help early by seeing your General Practitioner who may then refer to a specific program (such as those on the websites below) and/or to other health professionals such as a psychologist, family therapist, paediatrician or child psychiatrist. In addition to this, your General Practitioner addressing your and other carer’s wellbeing is an appropriate part of getting the best outcome for your child in this situation.

Useful websites

Triple P – Positive Parenting Program
Resourcing Parents: Parenting Events Calendar, Sydney