– Behavioral Issues –
Managing behavioral issues early in life can prove beneficial to your child’s long-term mental health. Changes in the body that may lead to mental illness can start in the teens or even earlier. Through greater understanding of when and how fast specific areas of children’s and adolescent’s brains develop, mental health professionals are learning more about the early stages of mental illnesses.
About Behavioral Disorders
Children and adolescents can develop:
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- Anxiety disorders
- Autism spectrum disorders
- Bipolar disorder
- Eating disorders
Garry Waterman is a licensed social worker who will work closely with you and your child to address any ongoing behavioral issues and effectively treat any mental disorders that may be hindering their early development.
Signs of Behavioral Issues
No one wants to have their child labeled “mentally ill” or the stigma that comes with it. Whether it’s avoiding labels or simply not recognizing the warning signs, many children with behavioral issues are not getting help, even though effective treatments are available.
There’s a fine balance between overreacting and not acting soon enough when it comes to your child’s mental health. Everyday stresses can cause temporary changes in your child’s behavior. Recognizing the difference between typical behavior changes and those associated with more serious problems is vital to properly address behavioral issues.
As a guide, particular attention should be paid to:
- Problems across various social settings: school, home, peer interaction
- Social withdrawal or fearfulness
- Regressive behaviors: return to bed-wetting or needing security items such as blankets or stuffed animals
- Changes in appetite or sleep
- Prolonged depressive moods
- Self-destructive behavior: cutting, head-banging
- Repeated thoughts of death
Keep in mind that each child is different. Comparing one child’s behavior to another, even if they are siblings, may not indicate behavioral issues.
Treatments and Therapies
Also referred to as “talk therapy” or “behavioral therapy,” psychotherapy helps children with behavioral issues change behavior and often works best in combination with medications. Therapies that teach parents and children coping strategies are also commonly employed.
A common psychotherapy used with children is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This therapy has been proven effective for a number of conditions including:
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Social anxiety
Children can receive CBT with or without their parents, or in a group setting. CBT can be adapted to fit the needs of each child. This therapy is especially useful in treating anxiety disorders.
Numerous therapies for ADHD are available. These tend to include behavioral parent training and behavioral classroom management.
Stanford research suggests that before using medications for behavioral issues, children should go two weeks with no screen time.
Some children, through no fault of their own, need medication to manage severe and difficult problems. Lacking treatment, these children may suffer dangerous long-term consequences. Additionally, psychosocial treatments may not always prove effective alone. A combination of psychotherapy and psychotropic medications often produces the best therapeutic results.
Psychotropic medications affect brain chemicals related to mood and behavior. Considerable research has helped us understand the benefits and risks of using psychotropics in children. However, every child has individual needs and should closely monitored.
Risk factors that contribute to childhood behavioral issues can be biological, psychological, family, community or culturally related.
Some risk factors include:
- Early puberty
- Low self-esteem/need for approval
- Insecure attachment
- Low-level depressive symptoms
- Poor social skills
- Conduct disorder
- Early substance use
- Antisocial behavior
- Exposure to neurotoxins (lead or mercury)
- Traumatic event (death in family/loss of close friendship)
- Parent-child conflict
- Poor parenting
- Negative family environment
- Child abuse/maltreatment
- Divorce/family conflict
How Else Can I Help My Child?
Children with behavioral issues need guidance and understanding from the adults in their life. Support grounded in empathy can help your child achieve their full potential and succeed in school.
Parents can help by:
- Taking part in parenting skills training
- Arranging family situations in more positive ways
- Learning stress-management techniques to help deal with frustrating situations
- Joining a support group that helps parents and families connect