When should you be concerned about child behavior problems in your home?
We all have our moments of “cringe-worthy” behaviors. We say things we later regret or lie to get out of awkward situations. When we consider how difficult it is to control our own behaviors, just think of what a child goes through – with a brain that is still developing, and lacking the maturity and experience to understand all the consequences of negative behaviors.
Even children who are usually well behaved may encounter a situation where they are so overcome by emotion that they “lose it” and engage in inappropriate behaviors. This is especially true of very young children whose emotions are still in the early stages of development.
Nevertheless, there are negative behaviors that should not be ignored in children, or they may become ingrained, interfering with the child’s relationships and daily life. Taking quick action to nip these problems in the bud will avoid them developing into serious issues that require professional intervention.
No matter what behavior issues you are going through with your child, take confidence! Your child can learn to control his or her emotions and behavior. As a child’s brain is still developing, the child has a surprising ability to learn new concepts and develop appropriate behaviors, under the guidance of parents and other caregivers.
In their book, No Drama Discipline (2014), authors Siegel and Bryson recommend that we “chase the why” when considering a child’s behavior problems. Rather than jumping to conclusions as to why a child is misbehaving, instead engage in some detective work and find the true answer.
Let’s take a look at ten child behavior problems that are common in children, yet absolutely cannot be ignored. These behaviors require swift intervention to bring them in check before they escalate. By exploring the reasons why your child may be engaging in these unwanted actions, you can devise an action plan of how to deal with them.
Child Behavior Problems You Shouldn’t Ignore
1. Telling Lies
We all know it’s wrong to tell a lie, but we all do it from time to time. No matter what age, lying is a significant problem when it becomes habitual – so ingrained that the person’s word cannot be trusted. Some children become repetitive liars, which can make it difficult for parents to know when to believe the child. This could even put the child in harm’s way.
Why does a child lie? A child may lie in order to avoid a feared or disliked activity. Children struggling with self-worth might tell stories in hopes of being admired by others. A child might lie to avoid being punished. When a child has failed at doing something, they might actually say that they were able to do it, in order to feel more self-confident.
Children with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) may be impulsive liars, where their mouth engages before their brain, according to Carol Brady, Ph.D., (ADDitude Magazine).
When parents teach their children boundaries between what is theirs and what belongs to others, most children quickly learn that taking something that doesn’t belong to them is unacceptable. Unfortunately, some children develop a habit of stealing, for multiple reasons.
Perhaps they enjoy the thrill of swiftly taking something without being noticed and the adrenaline release. They might be attempting to gain control over a situation – such as when they perceive a disparity between what they have and what others have. Stealing may be a way of getting something parents don’t allow – such as candy.
3. Bullying, Harming Others, Self-Harming, and Property Destruction
No one wants to be the parent of the neighborhood bully. Rather than facing the fact that their child is hurting other people or purposefully breaking things, some parents simply ignore this violent behavior. Parents need to immediately address why their child is violent or destructive.
Violent or destructive behavior often results from deep-seated anger. The child may be receiving abuse from another child or adult. The child might be jealous if the parents’ attention is diverted to a new baby or to their career, and feel that negative attention is better than no attention.
Self-harming (hitting, scratching, or cutting themselves) is alarming behavior. Children may talk about hurting themselves or even committing suicide. Never ignore such talk or behaviors. It often indicates depression or other serious emotional issues. Immediately seek professional help if your child has suicidal ideations, is self-harming, or is violent toward others.
4. Temper Tantrums
Almost every small child has temper tantrums. Their brains are still growing rapidly, and they are learning how to regulate their emotions. When they encounter a stressful situation, such as getting tired and bored in the supermarket or getting over-stimulated, it might result in a “meltdown.”
Children who have sensitive natures – who experience strong emotions and take longer to recover from anger or sadness – are more prone to temper tantrums, even at an age when most of their peers have become relatively adept at emotional regulation.
When your child is having a meltdown, give the opportunity to regain control in as calm an environment as possible. Maintain your own composure, speak in a soft and matter-of-fact tone and try to remove the child from an over-stimulating environment. Don’t goad overwrought emotions further by reacting in exasperation.
If tantrums are occurring frequently, or it takes a long time for the child to regain control, or if the child is causing harm to self or others, or destroying property, then counseling is recommended. If you feel helpless and worn down by all the meltdowns, you will benefit by having someone come alongside to support and guide you in helping your child regulate emotions.
5. Belligerence and Defiance
If your child is usually cheerful and compliant, then abruptly begins to question your directives, or refuse to obey, this defiant attitude may be a way of asserting himself or testing boundaries. Your child may be disrespectful to you or other authority figures. Many times this behavior is picked up from peers or even TV shows.
You may be noticing your child has become combative and quarrelsome with his or her siblings, with friends, or even you. This may be a sign that the child is suffering from anxiety or depression, or may be feeling out of control.
6. Ignoring Others
If a child is habitually ignoring authority figures, it may be a display of defiance. If the child is ignoring even non-authority figures, it could be due to a hearing disorder, or the child could be going through internal struggles, withdrawing inwardly, and simply less aware of what is going on around him.
It could also be a sign of ADHD. With ADHD, children have trouble filtering the other sounds around them, in order to concentrate on what one person is saying. They also tend to get lost in a “dream world” and not focused on the matter at hand. If you’re seeing a lot of ignoring behaviors, you probably need professional help to determine if there’s a physical or emotional reason behind it.
7. Refusing To Go to School
If you child frequently complains of headaches or stomach aches on school days, has meltdowns right before the school bus shows up, or simply takes hours getting out of bed and ready for school, these are all signs that the child is resisting going to school. Now it’s time for you to play detective and figure out what’s going on.
Perhaps someone is bullying your child at school, or the teacher is unpleasant. Your child may be bored by lack of challenge, or suffering anxiety because of difficulty learning the material. Your child may simply not want to leave you or your secure home environment. The child may feel nervous about tests. If a child is depressed, they often lose interest in activities they once loved.
When a child seems unusually unmotivated to do schoolwork or engage in sports or other activities, there’s probably something going on under the surface. Fatigue and lack of enthusiasm or interest in activities a person once enjoyed are signs of depression. If the child has a high level of anxiety about something stressful, this may have an immobilizing effect.
9. Smoking, Drinking, or Using Drugs
Children begin to experiment with cigarette smoking, drinking alcohol, or smoking marijuana around the age of thirteen. But children much younger than this engage in substance use, especially if it is readily available at home or from a friend or relative. Obviously, this behavior demands immediate attention before addictions develop or other serious issues ensue.
Once again, it’s important to explore the reason why a child is using cigarettes, alcohol or drugs. Is it peer pressure? Is the child copying the behaviors of the adults in his or her life? Is the child trying to cope with overwhelming emotions?
10. Premature Sexualized Behavior
All very small children explore their body. However, if preschool or elementary children are demonstrating overt sexual behavior or language, this is reason for concern.
Parents need to determine if the child has been exposed to pornography, or has observed teens or adults in sexual situations, or has even been the victim of sexual abuse. Consulting with a professional can help you discover what is going on with the child, and what to do about it.
What Should Be Done About These Child Behavior Problems?
Most negative behaviors are indicators of deeper, less obvious problems. Before you can help your child with the unwanted behavior, you first have to determine why the child is doing it. Finding the root cause is the key to effectively eliminating the problem.
This requires calmly investigating what the underlying issue is. Is it an immature and unregulated emotional system? Are there changes in the family that may be causing stress? Are there any problems at school – with learning the material or with peers or teachers? Is there any chance that the child is being bullied or exposed to inappropriate things or harmed by someone?
Often, child behavior problems are a way of coping with emotions or challenges the child can’t control. For instance, the child may feel jealous and neglected when parents bring a new baby home that demands a lot of attention. The child might act out with tantrums or defiance or even hurting others.
Just as adults cope with disappointments or hurts with unwise behavior – such as binge eating or drinking too much – children also choose incorrect ways to cope. Children don’t clearly understand the consequences, and their brains and emotions are still developing, thus they are more prone than adults to engage in problematic coping.
Understanding why children display unwanted behaviors does not mean we permit the behaviors to continue. But knowing the “why” behind the behavior helps us to determine issues that should be dealt with, and enables us to guide the child toward emotional control and equip the child with skills to overcome negative behavior.
A therapist trained in child development – especially development of the brain and emotions – can offer invaluable guidance and support. A counselor can help you determine issues underlying the problem behaviors, and suggest a plan of action.
When Should I Seek Help?
You don’t need to be in a crisis situation to seek counsel from a professional therapist on child behavior issues. In fact, the earlier you seek help, the better so that the problem behaviors don’t become worse.
However, there are several circumstances when you should immediately seek professional help:
- if your child is harming self or others or destroying property,
- if the problem behavior is very frequent or is escalating,
- if the behavior is interfering with daily life – with school, family life, or friends,
- if you suspect the child has been abused – physically, sexually, or emotionally, or
- if you are exhausted and feel hopeless and don’t know where to turn.
We’re here to come alongside you. Please don’t hesitate to contact us to get started in the right direction for your child.
“Problem Child”, Courtesy of Patrice Audet, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Egg Stealer”, Courtesy of Andrew Poynton, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Pouting,” courtesy of martakoton, pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Smoke with Me”, Courtesy of Smoke & Vibe, Unsplash.com; CC0 License