The Importance of Understanding Child and Adolescent Behavior

Child and adolescent behavior is complex because it is rapidly changing. Additionally, the range of normal behavior in children and adolescents varies between cultures, communities and individual families. Understanding child and adolescent behavior is nonetheless an important task for parents. Understanding your child or teen’s behavior can help you address her developmental needs, explains the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension Service 2. Further, understanding your child's actions can help you identify potential abnormal behaviors and address them before they become serious problems.

Meeting the Child’s Needs

Without a clear understanding of the basics of child and adolescent behavior, it is difficult to meet a young person’s emotional needs. Since each stage of childhood development is marked by different behaviors that change relatively quickly, understanding the child’s behaviors can help parents address that child’s social and emotional needs. For instance, understanding that toddlers may be clingy because of a need for both parental protection and autonomy can help you respond to separation anxiety in developmentally appropriate ways.


A working knowledge of child and adolescent behavior can help parents understand their child’s perspective and thus, contextualize behavior. This can help you empathize with your child’s situation and help you conceptualize why she is acting in a certain way. For example, understanding that adolescents often have an unstable sense of identity can help parents understand why their young teen wants to try out new clothing styles, music and lifestyle choices and why their opinions change rapidly.

Developmental Monitoring

By understanding child behavior, parents can better monitor their children to ensure that they are meeting developmental milestones. For example, while it is relatively normal for a toddler to hit and kick others when he is frustrated because he lacks the capacity to verbalize his feelings, the same behavior in an elementary-aged child may be the sign of an underlying psychological or emotional condition. Thus, understanding child behavior can help parents identify whether their children are meeting behavioral and emotional milestones. In turn, parents can address any potential issues early on.

Discipline and Parenting Techniques

Understanding child and adolescent behavior can help parents create rules, boundaries and disciplinary strategies that are appropriate for the child’s age and stage of development. For instance, understanding that it is normal for children and young teens to be self-centered and focus on their own needs above those of others can ensure that you do not set behavioral expectations for your child that she cannot achieve. Understanding child behavior and formulating a parenting strategy around this understanding can set your child up for success by helping you set age-appropriate rules and expectations. When parents understand their children's behavior and level of development, they can better help them "formulate their self-image, values and ideals" by offering appropriate guidance, explains the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute 1.

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