It is normal for children to go through phases of difficult behaviour at certain stages of their lives. This is just part of growing up. A classic example of difficult behaviour occurs in the teenage years where children are keen to become more independent and often rebel against rules and regulations. This is usually nothing to be concerned about.
However, it is important to identify sudden changes or changes that you would not normally associate with your child. Other questions to ask is whether it affecting important aspects of their life such as schoolwork and activities, eating and sleeping, relationships or their health in general?
If the behaviour is particularly bad it is often called 'conduct disorder' and is characterised by the child being overly aggressive or maybe involved in stealing or drug taking and breaking the law with no remorse even when confronted.
If you are concerned about serious behavioural issues then it is vital to try and get to the bottom of the problem. Maybe you already have an idea of what has caused the issue, especially if there has been a major upheaval in the child's life recently. If not, the first port of call is to talk to your child and ask them (but obviously in a positive and caring way rather than a confrontational or judgemental manner). If this doesn't work then you may need to speak to other family members (e.g. siblings), teachers or maybe your doctor/healthcare professional or counsellor to try and work out the problem. There are also many phone help-lines available in various countries to talk through the issue.
What can cause serious behavioural issues?
This will obviously differ hugely from case to case but listed here are some of the factors that are more likely to lead to serious conduct disorder:
- Children with low IQ's or learning difficulties can sometimes find school extremely tiresome and boring
- Genetic factors and learned behaviour from carers. If a child has had parents or siblings with major issues, for example, it could be passed down genetically or become a learned behaviour.
- Children living in poverty
- Children who have been bullied or suffered abuse or are depressed
- Children who have parents who are particularly harsh
- Socially isolated children
- Hyperactive children
- Children who succumb to peer pressure all too easily and have peers who have serious conduct issues
- Children with a dysfunctional family or of very negative parents who show little love
- Children who get involved with substance abuse e.g. drugs or alcohol
- Boys tend to have more obvious issues than girls although there is much debate about this
Effects of Serious Behavioural Issues and Conduct Disorders
Many people, including families, understandably focus on the short term consequences of serious behavioural issues. It goes without saying this can cause major stress, arguments within the family unit and a heap of trouble for all concerned.
What people don't always appreciate is these issues can affect the whole future and outlook of the child. The future consequences of serious misbehaviour in children are not guaranteed but listed here are some of potential later outcomes in adolescence and adulthood cited in international studies (including the U.S, New Zealand and Australia) .
- Worse performance at school
- Lower income
- Being arrested
- Going to prison
- Teenage pregnancies
- Substance abuse
- Mental Health Issues
Improving Serious Behavioural Issues
The main thing you can do as a parent is to offer unconditional love. If your child has a serious behavioural issue then you will need to help and support them all the way to fix it. Being overly critical is absolutely no use in this circumstance.
Talk to your child frequently and spend time with them with no agenda other than sharing some good times. Adding to the relationship's bank account will help in infinite ways for a whole variety of emotional issues.
Encourage and role model healthy moral habits. Plenty of demonstrations of respect, good moral values and high integrity levels will mean your child gets their values from you and not from their peers as long as you are making the effort to have an excellent relationship with them.
Encourage and role model healthy physical habits. Plenty of exercise, eating healthily, good sleep and hydration are a definite help in times of stress and should be used to help minimise it in the first place.
It is important to diagnose issues, investigate reasons and look for solutions earlier rather than later in a child's life. The longer this behaviour continues, the more likely the above negative outcomes will be in their adulthood.
There is specialist help and experienced counsellors are available in many countries. For example, in the UK, there are child-focused problem solving programmes, Multi-Systemic Therapy for older children, parenting/carer programmes, community programmes such as 'Sure Start', the Nurse Family Partnership and the 'Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services' (CAMHS). In some cases, medical professionals may offer certain approved drugs for short term use. Services such of these will be available in many developed countries worldwide. Parents are strongly advised to investigate help for their child and for the whole family unit from as many excellent resources as possible. Help should not be seen as a stigma and the purpose of help is not to apportion blame to parents or carers.
It is really important that parents or guardians bring special attention and praise on all the good things the child does rather than focus on the negative aspects. Children often seek attention from their parents and if they get little positive feedback then negative attention is often seen as better than nothing in a child's eyes. Help them to focus on things they are good at.
Talking with the child's school head teachers may bring up actions that can easily be implemented to focus energies on more positive aspects of the child's abilities. They may be able to suggest help with any potential learning difficulties too.
There are many causes of serious behavioural issues in children but many are related to a child's genes and experiences in and out of the home. Parents and carers can do a huge amount to decrease the likelihood of behavioural issues but cannot stop it altogether. Help is available in most modern developed countries and parents or carers are strongly advised to spend time as early as possible in a child's life to solve the problem before it becomes much bigger and affects the child's whole future.