Identifying and Diagnosing Behavioral Challenges

When it comes to children, there are several different behaviors that can be classified as “challenging.” From tantrums to outright refusal to do a task, every child struggles to constructively assert their will from time to time. For parents and caregivers, it can be difficult to determine whether a child’s behavior is simply a phase, the signs of a bad day, or if there might be something more going on. 

Let’s take a closer look at the differences between difficult behavior and actual behavioral disorders:

What Is Difficult Behavior?

Difficult behavior refers to any type of behavior that is outside of the norms of what is considered socially acceptable. This can include things like tantrums, aggressing toward others, property destruction and more. Many children will exhibit some form of difficult behavior at some point in their lives – it’s a common part of growing up. When a child is acting out of character and becoming increasingly difficult, this is usually a sign that something is going on in their life that they don’t know how to cope with. This might be something like stress at school, bullying, family issues or anything else that is causing them anxiety or upset. Behavioral challenges also suggest the need to evaluate whether the child is experiencing an undiagnosed or untreated condition. Behavioral challenges can be an indication of a medical condition needing to be addressed, such as chronic constipation, dehydration or insomnia.

In many cases, difficult behavior is a phase that a child will grow out of with time and guidance from parents or caregivers. However, there are some cases where difficult behavior can be a sign of a more serious issue, such as a behavioral disorder. It is important, however, to get a professional evaluation of your child if he or she is consistently demonstrating challenging behavior.

What Are the Signs of a Behavioral Disorder?

While difficult behavior is considered to be outside of the norm, there are certain behaviors that may go beyond that. These behaviors may significantly impact a child’s ability to function in everyday life and can be indicators of a more serious problem.

Some common signs of a behavioral disorder include:

• Inability to control impulses or emotions

• Problems with peer relationships

• Acting out in school or at home

• Difficulty following rules or instructions

• Refusal to comply with authority figures

• Changes in sleep habits, including frequent nightmares and refusal to go to bed

• Changes grades or participation levels at school

• Excessive worrying

• Changes in toileting habits, including overnight accidents

If you notice any of these signs in your child, it’s important to reach out to a professional for help.

How To Tell the Difference

There are a few key ways to tell the difference between difficult behavior and a behavioral disorder. First, it’s important to look at the intensity and frequency of the behaviors. If a child is exhibiting disruptive behaviors on a regular basis, it’s more likely that there is an underlying issue.

Another way to tell the difference is by looking at how the behaviors are impacting the child’s life. If a child is struggling in school or having difficulty making friends, it may be an indication that there is a bigger problem.

When Should You Seek Professional Help?

If you’re concerned about your child’s behavior, the best thing you can do is talk to your pediatrician. They will be able to rule out any medical causes for the behaviors and can provide you with referrals to mental health professionals if needed.

The diagnosis process is usually started by meeting with a mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist, psychologist or licensed clinical social worker. They will conduct a comprehensive evaluation to determine if there is an underlying disorder. This evaluation may include things like a review of symptoms, family history, and observations of the child’s behavior.

If your child is diagnosed with a behavioral disorder, there are a number of different solutions available. These may include therapy, medication or a combination of both. With appropriate supports and accommodations, most children are able to overcome their challenges and lead happy and successful lives.