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Author: Dr Dennis OugrinConsultant Child Psychiatrist

One of the questions we get asked most is “Why does my child behave like this?” – it is perfectly understandable to want to understand what might be causing the behavioural issues and therefore, how to support your child. We can help.

Behaviour problems are common

There is no one cause for behavioural problems such as ODD (oppositional defiant disorder) or conduct disorders. Your child’s behaviour is a complex relationship between many different elements.

We know that behavioural concerns are very common (about 8% of teenage boys have behavioural problems, 5% of under tens) but the reasons for this aren’t always clear.

As a parent, this can be incredibly frustrating and it’s normal to feel worried, stressed, embarrassed or even shamed by your child’s behaviour. You might feel like you are a bad parent or can’t control your child and be worried about what other people think about you. Although understandable, these thoughts are rarely justified: behavioural disorders have complex causes.

1 in 10 children will have a mental health problem


Causes of behavioural issues

There are often several factors that can be responsible for why a child or teenager behaves in a certain way, including:

  1. Genetic factors – we know that some children are more inclined toward behavioural problems because of their genetic make-up. A family history of mental disorders can increase this risk.
  2. Other mental health conditions, such as ADHD, Autism, depression and anxiety are often accompanied by behavioural problems, such as shyness, anger or school avoidance.
  3. Physical issues - damage to certain parts of the brain can result in a child being unable to control some of their tendencies or being more inclined to aggression.
  4. Bullying or difficulties at school can result in a child ‘acting out’ with aggressive or violent behaviours as a way of them dealing with their experiences at school.
  5. Issues within the home, such as parental discord, family bereavements or illnesses and parental mental health issues can mean children and teenagers develop behavioural problems.
  6. Difficulties learning acceptable behaviours from others (which can be because of Learning Difficulties or language problems) can make it hard for children to learn socially appropriate behaviours.
  7. If your child has experienced trauma or abuse, even at an early age, they may be more likely to develop behavioural problems.
  8. Alcohol and drug usage can trigger behavioural issues within children. Parents aren’t always aware their child is using drugs or alcohol, but research has shown the use of substances like cannabis can have a significant impact on your child’s behaviour.

Behaviour disorders are the most common mental health reason parents visit their GP


How to help your child or teenager

Research has shown that early intervention is key to getting effective support and treatment for your child or teenager. About 70% of children with a mental health problem don’t get the right help at the right time – this can mean that the issues grow worse or develop into something more severe.

The reasons for not getting help early enough are often that parents feel their child will grow out of the phase, that it is a normal part of development or because they feel shame or embarrassment about their child’s behaviour.

Read more about treating behavioural issues

 

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