During the transition between childhood and adolescence, it is common for kids to have temporary behavioral issues. These could be caused by stress factors like the birth of a sibling, divorce, or losing a close family member.
However, if rebellious behavior becomes a hostile and aggressive pattern for over six months, your child may need professional support from a mental health specialist.
Some warning signs that can help identify behavioral issues in children and teenagers include criminal actions like theft, vandalism, skipping school, and disobedience toward authority figures in the family or at school.
Poor choices can become lifetime habits - seek help for your child as soon as you notice a problematic pattern of conduct. A strong support system from family, school, and professional help can guide your child towards a brighter future.
Behavioral issues can manifest in two different ways, and both share common symptoms. It is common for children to experience both disorders simultaneously and other mental health conditions like anxiety and depression.
Oppositional defiant disorder is usually marked by defiant and disobedient behavior towards authority figures. Signs can sometimes start at a very young age. Some of the most common symptoms of oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) include:
- Becoming easily irritated and angry
- Frequent tantrums
- Constant arguing with parents and other close adults
- Refusing to obey rules
- Deliberately annoying others
- Blaming others for any misfortunes
- Low self-esteem
Conduct disorder refers to a group of behavioral issues in young children that manifests as having great difficulty following rules, showing empathy, and behaving in a socially acceptable way.
It is common for children with conduct disorder (CD) to also have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Some of the typical behaviors of CD may include:
- Refusing to obey parents or other authority figures
- Skipping school often
- Drug, cigarette, and alcohol consumption at a very early age
- Being aggressive to animals and other people
- Showing sadistic behavior like bullying, physical or sexual abuse towards others
- Starting physical fights as a habit
- Frequent lying
- Tendency for criminal behavior like stealing, breaking into houses, or vandalism
- Tendency to run away from home
- Lack of empathy for others
- Suicidal tendency
Although the direct cause of behavioral issues in children is unknown, some factors could increase the risk of their development, including:
- Gender: Although it is unclear if it’s because of genetic or socialization experiences, boys are more likely to suffer from behavioral disorders than girls.
- Difficulties in gestation and birth: Premature birth and low birth weight could contribute to a child’s behavior later in life.
- Brain development: The areas of the brain that control attention are usually less active in children with ADHD and behavioral issues.
- Temperament and personality: Children who show aggressive temperaments from an early age are more likely to develop behavioral disorders later in life.
- Family life: Children who live in dysfunctional families where domestic violence, poor parenting skills, or substance abuse are common are more likely to develop behavioral disorders.
- Learning and processing difficulties: Problems with reading and writing are often associated with behavior problems.
Behavioral issues often result from a combination of factors like ADHD, anxiety, depression, and a difficult home life. Diagnosis methods to identify ODC or CD may include:
- In-depth interviews with parents and teachers
- Behavior checklists and questionnaires
- Psychological tests made by a specialist
- Family life and dynamics analysis
A child who shows behavioral issues during childhood and adolescence and does not receive support may grow up to become a dysfunctional adult - usually, the earlier the intervention, the better the outcome.
Treatment typically involves multiple approaches, such as:
- Parental education and family therapy to address external factors like a violent environment that triggers behavioral issues
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and medication management to help retrain negative thought processes
- Social training and coping skills to defuse anger
- Constant encouragement and positive reinforcement to improve self-esteem
A child with a strong support system at home has better expectations of overcoming behavioral problems. Positive parenting strategies involve active understanding, communication, and encouragement. It also involves:
- Becoming aware of your child’s feelings and being empathetic
- Avoiding judgment when listening to your child
- Pausing instead of reacting harshly
- Teaching your child mindfulness and anger management techniques