How to Talk to Your Pediatrician about Behavior Problems

Talk to your child's pediatrician about behavior concerns
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Parents tend to grow accustomed to their child’s behavior, which can make it difficult to recognize when a problem exists. Parents may overlook serious temper tantrums because they grow accustomed to their child throwing himself on the floor and screaming every day. Similarly, parents may minimize a child’s hyperactivity because they’ve started making special accommodations that make the behavior manageable.

Other parents do recognize the possibility that their child’s behavior may signal a bigger problem. Yet, research shows many parents don’t ever raise concerns to the pediatrician. Sadly, many underlying behavior disorders, learning disabilities, and mental health problems are left untreated.

Here are two signs you should speak with your child’s doctor about a behavior problem:

  1. You see a major shift in your child’s mood or behavior. If your normally happy child becomes withdrawn, or if your mostly compliant child suddenly starts refusing to do everything you ask, tell the doctor. Changes in mood or behavior can signal an underlying issue that needs professional treatment.
  2. Your child’s behavior isn’t in line with his peers. If all the other kids on the soccer team are able to pay attention to the game, but your child is playing in the dirt and picking flowers, it’s a sign that his behavior may be problematic. Similarly, if the other kids seem to handle minor disappointments with relative ease, but your child has frequent meltdowns,he may need help dealing with uncomfortable emotions.

    Examples of How to Bring Up Issues with the Doctor

    Sometimes parents aren’t sure how to raise questions about behavioral concerns at a child’s checkup. Don’t wait until the doctor is about to walk out the door before saying, “By the way, I have this other concern.” Raise the issue early on in the appointment to ensure you have plenty of time to discuss it.

    Here are a few examples of ways to express your concerns:

    • “He seems to cry a lot more than his older brother ever did at this age. Is that something I should be concerned about?”
    • “She throws really big temper tantrums every night at bedtime. Is that normal?”
    • “Her teacher says she seems to daydream a lot in class and it takes her a long time to do her homework. Do you think we should be concerned?”
    • “He seems to be a lot more disrespectful than other kids his age. What should I do about that?”
    • “She asks a lot of the same questions over and over again like she’s really worried about what might happen. Do you think that could be a sign of a problem?”
    • “She seems to be really sad a lot lately. She’s been crying more often and staying in her room. Should I take her to see a therapist?”

    Take the Next Step

    If the pediatrician shares your concern, your child may be referred for further evaluation. Here are a few examples:

    • A doctor who has concerns about possible ADHD may refer a child to a psychologist for further testing.
    • If a doctor suspects a child has an underlying anxiety disorder, a child may be referred to a therapist for evaluation.
    • If a child’s behavior involves sensory issues, a referral to an occupational therapist may be made.

    It’s essential to follow-up with these types of referrals so your child’s behavior can be properly assessed and treated. Make sure the pediatrician is kept informed of your child’s treatment as well.

    If your child’s doctor doesn’t share your concerns, yet you are still worried, don’t hesitate to ask for a second opinion. Meet with another doctor and discuss the problems that concern you. Or, contact a mental health professional directly. Not all of them require a referral from a doctor.

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