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Dr Dennis Ougrin

Author: Dr Dennis OugrinConsultant Child Psychiatrist

There are many different, highly effective, treatment options available for children and young people who are struggling with their behaviour.

Assessment

One of the most useful first steps is to understand more about the issues that your child is struggling with. We know that behavioural difficulties, such as aggressive or defiant behaviour, can often be a way a child or teenager communicates difficulties they are having in another area of their life – for instance, issues at school or with their self-esteem.

It’s also very common for children who display signs of anger to have an underlying condition, like ADHD, depression or anxiety. Some studies indicate that as many as 40% of children with behavioural issues will have ADHD1.

An assessment with a child and adolescent psychiatrist will identify if there is an underlying cause for the behaviour and will also identify the best treatment route.

1. NICE

Find out more about the causes of behavioural issues here


Medication

Certain medications can be useful for helping children and teenagers manage their anger or aggression issues, for instance:

  1. If the underlying problem is ADHD, stimulant medication can be highly effective. There is a great deal of evidence showing that these stimulant medications increase levels of certain key chemicals in the brain (dopamine and norepinephrine) which allows the brain to function in a different way and helps the child’s behaviour – commonly increasing their ability to concentrate and decreasing their levels of hyperactivity.
  2. If the underlying condition is autism, there is evidence that atypical antipsychotics, such as Risperidone, may reduce severe aggression by acting on the dopamine and serotonin neurotransmitters.
    Medication is typically seen as a treatment of last resort for excessive anger in autism, and the advantages should be carefully weighed against the risk of side effects, but nonetheless, for some families, having medication to help their child’s aggression is a lifeline.

There are other medications that can be useful in helping a child or teenager manage their behaviours and reduce their aggression. More often than not, a talking therapy will be recommended alongside medication - the medication can often help the child engage more fully in their therapy.

The whole appointment was very calm and the clinician approachable. We had the necessary space to discuss our concerns about our son. It was hugely helpful and has given our child the lifeline they needed.

Rachel, Birmingham


Talking therapy

Your child or teenager may benefit from having some time with a therapist or psychologist who will be able to work through any emotional or behavioural issues that your child has.

Children won’t always feel comfortable talking to their parents, but will often open up to a therapist.

CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) in particular has been shown to be effective at helping a child or teenager1:

  1. Regulate excessive anger
  2. Learn social problem-solving strategies
  3. Develop alternative social skills (other than anger)

Talking therapies are often the most preferred option for treating behavioural issues – not only are they the safest options (many medications have side effects) but the skills your child or teen will learn from therapy will last them a lifetime and are a real investment in their future.

1. Sukhodolsky, D.G., (2003)

30%
of GP child consultations are for behavioural problems.


Family therapy and parenting skills training

It can be incredibly stressful for the whole family if you have a child who has behavioural issues. Your daily family life may be rife with arguments, confrontations and stress. Siblings can often suffer when one child has specific behavioural issues; marriages are often placed under huge amounts of stress and marital discord can make your child’s behaviours worse as they may feel they are to blame - but still not know how to stop.

Evidence has shown that family therapy and parenting support can help tackle and reduce disruptive or problem behaviours and are often based around how parents behave immediately after their child’s aggressive behaviour.

With the help of a parenting coach, therapist, family therapist or psychologist you will learn:

  • Praising appropriate behaviour
  • Effective communication
  • How to ignore the problem, attention seeking behaviours
  • How to behave consistently with regards to consequences
  • How to embed and support the skills your child is learning from their therapy

Attending sessions as a couple can often be hugely powerful and ensure there is a ‘united’ from at home. This can take a great deal of pressure off the family and give everyone the space they need to help the child affected.

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If you're struggling with an emotional or mental health problem, call us now to make an appointment - and take the first step in getting the support you need.

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