As children develop, it is common for them to face emotional and behavioral difficulties as they transition through their life stages. These difficulties may be due to naturally occurring events such as a child’s growth and development. Such increase in behavior difficulties is age-appropriate and reflective of a child’s developmental stage. For example, the ‘terrible twos’ or the teenage struggle to develop independence. Other times, it may be due to stressful situations such as a loss of a loved one, separation of parents, new sibling, or a transitional change to a new city. An increase in behavioral difficulties in response to stressful situations is normal, and in most children, the behavior fades over time.
Generally, there are two main behavioral difficulties which children present with: externalizing and internalizing behavior. Externalizing behaviors are aggressive or argumentative behaviors which may cause conflict for the child in school or at home. Internalizing behaviors are withdrawn behaviors where the child loses interest in things which was once enjoyable. It is important for parents to look out for both types of behavioral difficulties.
One of the main struggles facing parents of children with emotional or behavioral problems is deciding whether the child’s behavior is age-appropriate and normal, or out of the norm and requiring additional professional attention. Generally, there are 4 main guidelines which parents can use to help families make the decision to seek a professional evaluation.
- Duration of Behavior: How long has your child been displaying this behavior? If the behavior continues to persist after an extended period of time without subsiding. There is a possibility that there are additional emotional difficulties impacting the behavior of the child.
- Intensity of Behavior: How intense is the behavior? Whilst it is normal for children to have behavioral difficulties such as temper tantrums, if the intensity of the behavior is extreme, these is a possibility that additional support is required.
- Impact of Behavior: How does the behavior impact your child and family? Has the behavior causing eating or sleeping difficulties? Is the behavior dangerous to your child or other people?
- Age of the Child: Is your child’s response age-appropriate? Whilst children develop at different rates, extreme deviations from age-appropriate behavior is a cause for concern.
If you have concerns about your child’s behavior, it is important to seek professional support to get a better understanding of the underlying issues which may be impacting your child’s behavior. This can be done through a consultation with a clinical or educational psychologist. Generally, research has shown that the earlier the child receives intervention, the better the outcome would be. Children who have untreated behavioral disorders may grow up to be dysfunctional adults.
Treatment for behavioral difficulties is multifaceted and dependent on the particular disorder and factors contributing to the behavior. There are several evidence based interventions which are often used to support children with behavioral difficulties, such as: parental education, family therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, social skills training, and anger management. Experts have found that early intervention that focuses on both the child and the family unit generally lead to best outcome. With support, children who have behavioral difficulties are able to cope and live fulfilled lives.