What Are Typical Behaviors of a Child?

Medically Reviewed on 5/25/2022
What are typical behaviors of a child?
Behavior refers to the way someone conducts themselves including their actions, reactions, and functioning.

Sometimes, it’s difficult for parents to differentiate between the normal and abnormal behaviors of their children.

The “normal" behavior of a child depends upon certain factors such as level of development, intellectual growth, family values and expectations, and cultural and social background.

Understanding a child's unique developmental progress is necessary to interpret, accept, or adapt their behavior.

The typical behaviors of a child depending on their age are listed below.

Typical childhood behaviors

Toddlers (1 to 2 years)

  • Does the opposite of the most instructions given by a parent
  • Seldom obeys any verbal command
  • Uses “No” as the chief word
  • Not motivated by words
  • Not able to wait (impatient)
  • Unable to stand frustration
  • Constantly seems to find ways to frustrate self
  • Treats people like objects, steps on or pushes, and hit others, without remorse
  • No concept of sharing
  • Very limited in understanding, even though now can use words to some extent
  • Extremely immature emotionally
  • Shows tantrums easily and often
  • Has boundless energy
  • Easily be distracted or lured away from a forbidden object or activity

Preschoolers (3 to 4 years)

  • Argues to show their separateness by doing things their way and making choices
  • Occasional tantrums that are shorter and less intense
  • Are unable to explain themselves clearly
  • Do not understand how their behavior affects others
  • Getting angry at peers or siblings over things that seem minor to adults
  • Being inflexible and not listening to reason
  • Being impulsive
  • Fail to see the long-term effects of their actions
  • Occasionally hit out of frustration, particularly when they are not able to express themselves in words
  • Being shy or clingy in new situations and with new people (separation anxiety)
  • Fearful of things that are not real such as monsters under the bed

School-age kids (5 to 8 years)

  • Have conflicts with peers or siblings
  • Gets upset if others do not follow the rules
  • Often wanting more freedom
  • Struggling to deal with failures
  • Easily gets upset or argues if things are "unfair" or others are "being mean"
  • Trying to talk their way out of punishments
  • Telling lies to get attention or avoid consequences
  • Tends to be more responsive to reasoning about consequences and effects on others

Preteens (9 to 11 years)

  • Swears often to experiment or to fit in with peers
  • Becomes oppositional and argumentative
  • Feels left out or worries about not having friends at times
  • Frequent disagreements or falling out with friends
  • Brags to get attention from others
  • Often lies to avoid consequences or get attention (becomes attention seeking)

Toward the end of childhood (12 to 18 years)

  • Wants to be different from parents and be more like peers
  • Worries about big picture issues such as war or poverty
  • Copies peer behaviors that may vary from parent expectations
  • Often questions parent opinions and authority
  • Conscious about appearances and fitting in
  • Fails to respond to discipline


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Three types of behavior

Behavior refers to the way someone conducts themselves including their actions, reactions, and functioning in response to everyday environments and situations.

  1. Behaviors that are expected and approved: This might include doing homework regularly, being polite, and doing chores without any hustle. Their actions receive compliments freely and easily.
  2. Behaviors that are unsanctioned but are tolerated under certain circumstances: During times of illness (of a parent or a child) or stress (a change of house or school, or the birth of a new sibling). These kinds of behavior might include not doing chores, regressive behavior, or being excessively self-centered.
  3. Behaviors that cannot and should not be tolerated or reinforced: This includes actions that are harmful to the physical, emotional, or social well-being of the child, the family members, and others. This behavior might interfere with the child's intellectual development or may be forbidden by law, ethics, religion, or social mores. It might include very aggressive or destructive behavior, overt racism or prejudice, stealing, truancy, smoking or substance abuse, school failure, or an intense sibling rivalry.

11 signs of abnormal behavior in a child

  1. Difficulty managing emotions
  2. Impulsive and displays destructive behavior such as hitting, throwing things, and screaming
  3. An otherwise talkative child withdraws into a shell, talks back, and seems rude for no apparent reason
  4. Lying more often
  5. Stealing or taking things that do not belong to them becomes a habit
  6. Their behavior is affecting their performance at school
  7. Spats and disagreements with peers affect their social life
  8. Gets restless, extremely lazy, or disoriented
  9. Indulges in sexual behaviors that are not age-appropriate
  10. Defies rules just to challenge parents
  11. Harms themselves or even think about self-harming

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Medically Reviewed on 5/25/2022
Image Source: iStock Image

Normal Child Behavior. American Academy of Pediatrics: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/family-life/family-dynamics/communication-discipline/Pages/Normal-Child-Behavior.aspx#:~:text=They%20might%20include%20doing%20homework,birth%20of%20a%20new%20sibling).

CHILD DEVELOPMENT BY AGE. The Center for Parenting Education: https://centerforparentingeducation.org/library-of-articles/child-development/child-development-by-age/