Influences on Children's Behavior

The way a child behaves is his individual way of acting in response to the stimuli and people around him. While each child is unique, the factors that influence behavior are largely the same. If a child’s negative behavior is a symptom of an underlying condition, such as a mental health problem or a disability, his pediatrician can provide a referral to an appropriate specialist.


As a child encounters new cognitive and physical experiences and develops skills, her behavior starts to change, according to the National Research Council and Institute of Medicine’s publication “Children’s Health, the Nation’s Wealth: Assessing and Improving Child Health” on the National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine website 2. The behavior a child displays in response to introduction of new things and people is a manifestation of her growth, health and development. The publication suggests that children who were born prematurely are less likely to vocalize and smile and tend to be fussier. When a child experiences developmental delays that negatively impact behavior, this can cause reciprocal stress between the child and her parents, an impaired attachment, the inadequate secretion of growth hormones, failure to thrive and/or delays in social development.


Nutrition during a mother’s pregnancy and a child’s early life can affect behavior through the individual’s teen years 1. According to Emory University nutrition professor Reynaldo Martorell, Ph.D., in the World Bank’s online article “Nutrition,” children who are malnourished are more likely to demonstrate behavior problems and delayed or negative social skills 1. Researchers link deficiencies in nutrients like iron and iodine to cognitive impairments, aggression and anti-social behaviors.


A child’s environment includes the objects and individuals around him. According to the Ministry of Health Planning’s publication, “Guiding Children’s Behaviour,” on the British Columbia Ministry of Health website, age-appropriate toys can influence a child’s behavior because they provide productive learning experiences that nurture positive conduct in a child. When a space is aesthetically pleasing, healthy, organized and gives a child enough room to play, the environment promotes good mental health and positive behavior.

Social Interactions

A child who is around nurturing adults who provide guidance feels a sense of comfort, security and trust. The Ministry of Health Planning states that when an adult models positive behavior that he wants children to learn, the children learn to socialize and behave in manners that are healthy and demonstrate cooperation. According to Andrea Browning in a Medical News Today online article, “Peer Groups Have a Significant Influence on Children's Behavior but Some Are More Influential than Others,” a University of Western Ontario study of older children found that the kids in “popular” groups are the most likely to influence each other’s behaviors 3. While children tend to behave like the others in their social groups, the similarities were greater in those who considered part of the “cool” group, even if it prompted children to act aggressively toward others or engage in risky behaviors.

Immediate Needs

Sometime children use behavior to communicate an immediate need. According to the Connected Beginnings Training Institute, a child may use tantrums, crying, biting and facial expressions to communicate, for example, that she's hungry, thirsty, tired, scared, bored or hurt. Using behavior as a means of communication is normal as a child builds a vocabulary base and the skills to express herself with words. By noticing patterns in behavior, like the time of day or the events before and after a particular behavior, a parent can appropriately respond to the child's needs.