Behaviour Difficulties


Behaviour Difficulties

Challenging behaviour is common in kids and teens, but while a certain amount of challenging behaviour is healthy and indicative of a child’s ability to express their thoughts and feelings, some kids develop behavioural problems that are more challenging and difficult than that exhibited by their peers.

Severe behavioural problems are stressful and draining for parents and best dealt with in consultation with a clinical psychologist. There are a number of reasons why a child might develop challenging behaviour and knowing the specific underlying causes of your child’s behaviour is important. A mismatch between underlying causes and treatment strategies will limit the effectiveness of treatment.

Click here here for information and ideas about how to manage challenging behaviour.

Problem Behaviours in Toddlers

Toddlerhood can be a challenging time for both toddlers and parents. Toddlers have to learn to cope with the fact that while they’d like to be able to, they can’t do everything for themselves just yet, and until they develop the skills to identify and regulate their emotions – it’s parents who are left to pick up the pieces after a meltdown. Skills in other areas – social skills, skills for attention – are also developing, and where there are delays, this can contribute to challenging behaviour as well.

What’s Normal Behaviour In Toddlers?

A certain level of challenging behaviour is healthy and normal and all toddlers will at one point or another go through phases of:

  • Tantrums
  • Biting, hitting, or pinching
  • Refusing to share
  • Stubbornness
  • Bedtime antics
  • Cheekiness or talking back
  • Fussy eating
  • Fighting with other children
  • Refusing to follow instructions
  • Not listening to instructions and requests


Why Do Toddlers Misbehave?

Challenging behaviour in toddlerhood can be symptomatic of an underlying problem – for example, lagging social or emotion regulation skills – but it can also be a reaction to environmental stress or mismatched parenting strategies. For example, while rigid discipline may be effective for managing behaviour in some toddlers, in other toddlers (particularly those who are fiercely independent) this approach may actually worsen challenging behaviour. Identifying the underlying cause of your toddlers behaviour is essential to positive change.

As a general rule, when problem behaviour is occurring at both home and daycare, there’s more likely to be an underlying skills problem. If challenging behaviour is only evident at home, a re-evaluation of parenting strategies might be needed.

Problem Behaviour in Kids and Teens

The two most common behavioural disorders in children and adolescents are Oppositional Defiant Disorder and Conduct Disorder.

What Is Oppositional Defiant Disorder?

Opposition Defiant Disorder is a term used to describe behaviour in kids and teens that is disobedient and hostile. Key symptoms of Oppositional Defiant Disorder are:

  • Arguing with adults
  • Temper outbursts
  • Refusing to take responsibility for misbehavior
  • Being touchy or easily annoyed
  • Defying or refusing to comply with rules
  • Being spiteful and vindictive
  • Deliberately doing things to annoy other people


What Is Conduct Disorder?

The behaviour associated with Conduct Disorder is more severe than that seen in Oppositional Defiant Disorder. Symptoms include:

  • Aggressive behaviour that results in or threatens physical harm to others
  • Picking fights with peers (may involve the use of a weapon)
  • Theft
  • Physical cruelty towards people or animals
  • Forced sexual activity
  • Property destruction
  • Deceitfulness
  • Violation of rules

Regardless of whether your child meets full criteria for a diagnosable behavioural problem, if their behaviour is causing you stress it’s worthwhile seeking guidance from a clinical psychologist.

School Refusal

When a child or teen loses motivation for school attendance or actually refuses to go to school, this is known as school refusal. It’s different from truancy which is when children and adolescents go to school as normal and then leave school grounds without permission.

What Makes Teens Refuse To Go To School?

The cause of school refusal will differ from teen to teen, but common reasons are:

  • Fear of failing
  • Feeling overwhelmed by school work
  • Depression
  • Learning difficulties
  • Peer problems
  • Conflict with teachers
  • Separation anxiety
  • Distress at instability at home
  • Social anxiety

What’s important to know is that the initial cause of school refusal won’t necessarily be the reason why a teen continues to refuse school. For example, conflict with a teacher might be the initial trigger for school refusal, but falling behind in school work and feeling disconnected from friends might be the underlying cause of ongoing avoidance.