Many children occasionally get into trouble; they do naughty things or act impulsively. This is frequently a rite of passage for many children, and with some learning and some disciplinary consequences from their parents, these behaviors decrease over time. Some children, however, engage in more difficult behavior which creates serious challenges for parenting. This may be indicative of a behavior disorder. For these children, behavioral health may be a part of the solution, because traditional parenting techniques are less effective. Child behavior varies from age to age, situation to situation, and time to time, making it difficult for parents and caretakers to understand children’s behavior and know what is normal and what is a sign of a bigger problem. Seeking behavioral support can help address current behavioral concerns and improve outcomes for the child over their lifetime, since self-esteem, relationships with authority figures, and prosocial behaviors build upon earlier learned skills.
What is a Behavioral Disorder?
Behavioral disorders are disruptive patterns of behaviors among children that occur for at least six months at home, school, or social events. These can significantly impair a child’s functioning and create problems for them in multiple areas of functioning.
Common Childhood Behavioral Problems
Many behaviors of young children can be a problem at times, especially commons areas like:
- Eating problems
- Sleep problems
- Aggression (to self or others)
- Temper tantrums
- Breath-holding spells
- Avoiding school
- Preschool issues and problems
What Are Different Behavioral Disorders?
At times, behavior problems in young children are indicative of other mental health concerns. Sometimes, behavior problems are the first signs of more serious conditions. These disorders include:
- Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
- Learning Disorders
- Anxiety Disorder
- Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)
- Conduct Disorders
- Bipolar Disorder
Among the common disorders are the following;
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
Almost 2-5% of children have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, sometimes called ADD, with a higher ratio of boys than girls. The different types of behavior seen in them are;
- Impulsivity– They act without thinking and jump into situations head-first
- Inattention– They forget instructions, are unable to focus, and leave tasks incomplete.
- Overactivity– Continuous fidgeting and restlessness, like they are driven by a motor.
Children with Conduct Disorders often have difficulty at school or in other settings, because they have a refusal towards following rules.
In the United States, 2-10% of children have a Conduct disorder during their lifetime. These are more frequent in boys than girls, and about one-third of children diagnosed with Conduct Disorder are also diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
The symptoms of Conduct disorder include:
- Habitual Lying
- Lack of empathy/No concern about how their behavior impacts others
- Running away from home
- Oppositionality and defiance of authority figures
- Substance abuse in older children
- Use of weapons
- Aggression toward peers
- Aggression towards family and animals
- Criminal behavior, such as breaking things, stealing and lighting fires.
Oppositional Defiant Disorder
About one out of ten children, of age ten years, have Oppositional defiant disorder, and again, boys outnumber girls. Following are the behavior patterns of children who have Oppositional defiant disorder:
- Refusal to obey rules.
- Blaming others for their troubles
- Low self-esteem, frustration control
- Throwing temper tantrums.
- Deliberatelyannoying others.
- Being frequently irritated, annoyed, and angered.
- Difficulties with authority figures
Many risk factors can contribute to the complexity of the following behavioral disorders.
- Family Life– These disorders are more common in families with poor parenting skills, domestic violence, and substance abuse (though not always!)
- Gender– Boys are more commonly diagnosed with behavioral disorders than girls.
- Brain Development– Children with ADHD are more frequently diagnosed with other behavior disorders.
- Intellectual Disabilities– Children with intellectual disabilities are more commonly diagnosed with behavioral disorders.
- Birth and Gestation– Premature birth, low birth weight, difficulty in pregnancy, and delivery can lead to behavioral disorders.
- Learning Difficulties– Problems in reading, learning, and writing contribute to behavioral disorders.
- Temperament– Children with more difficult temperaments are more likely to be diagnosed with behavioral disorders.
Methods of Diagnosis of Behavioral Disorders
There is often a fine line between what is typical and what is problematic, and it can be hard for parents to know what needs to be done to help their child. To make things more complicated. Children with one behavioral disorder may be more likely to have another behavioral diagnosis, and the symptoms of these conditions can overlap and exacerbate one another.
Methods of Diagnosis include:
- Interviews with teachers, parents, and children.
- Behavioral checklists, including questionnaires about behavior.
- Other standardized measures may be included to confirm or rule out other psychological concerns.
- Psychological evaluation by a licensed psychologist, who incorporates various sources of information and compares this information to the diagnostic criteria for different conditions.
Treatment for Behavioral Disorders
Treatment for child behavior problems is essential. As they get older, children with untreated behavioral disorders are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, drop out of school, be unemployed, and be incarcerated. The earlier you diagnose and start treatment, the better it will be for your child. A combination of behavioral treatment and medication management for ADHD can significantly improve a child’s behavior in school, home, and social events.
Treatment is different for all disorders, but there are some commonalities.
Some of the techniques for treating children with behavioral disorders are:
- Medication– Address the brain-based differences and decrease aggressive and impulsive behavior.
- Encouragement– Increase the presence of positive behaviors.
- Social training– Enhancing social skills will help improve the behavior of the child.
- Family Therapy– Working together, families can change the dynamics at home.
- Anger Management– Help children to manage anger appropriately.
- Parental Education– Specialized parenting techniques can help parents understand and act in a way that supports their child’s mental health.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy– Teaching children ways to manage their thoughts and behaviors.
- Help in relevant problems– If learning difficulties or mood disorders are exacerbating behavior problems, helping children improve their abilities in these areas can address problematic behavior.
Behavioral disorders in children can be challenging for parents and if left untreated, can lead to many negative outcomes. Behaviors may be problematic at home, at school, or in other settings. If your child is struggling and you are concerned about whether their behavior is normal, Dr. Jessica Myszak at the Help and Healing Center can help. She has specialized in psychological evaluations of children for many years. She can help give you direction and provide recommendations for help. Support your child’s future by helping their present needs.