When Should Parents Seek Help for a Child's Behavior Problems?

Identify warning signs and risk factors of serious behavior problems.

Look for warning signs that your child may need professional help for behavior problems.
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Admitting your child may need help for a behavior problem isn't easy. But it's important to seek help from a child behavior expert if you suspect your child may have a problem. Early intervention is often the key to successful treatment.

Meeting with a trained professional doesn't mean your child is crazy, nor  does it mean you're an incompetent parent. Sometimes, for one reason or another, kids just need a little extra support or a different type of discipline to perform at their best.

If you’re questioning whether your child may need help, don't hesitate to seek treatment. If there are no serious problems it can either put your mind at ease. If problems are detected, a child behavior specialist can help address the problem before it gets worse.

General Behavior Problems

If your discipline techniques aren’t effective, a mental health professional or child behavior expert can help you discover alternative discipline techniques. Sometimes, a few appointments is all it takes to help you discover more effective consequences that can help turn your child's behavior around.

If your child’s behaviors interfere with his daily life, seek help. For example, if your 10-year-old is falling behind at school because he’s spending a lot of time in the principal’s office, his behavior problems are likely interfering with his education. Or, if you have a tween who can't maintain healthy friendships because he's rude and argumentative, he may need professional help.

It also makes sense to seek help if your child’s behavior is not developmentally appropriate. While it’s normal for a 3-year-old to throw temper tantrums, if your 7-year-old is still throwing himself on the floor every time he is angry, he may have an underlying developmental issue or mental health problem that should be evaluated by a professional.

Specific Red Flags

For children of any age, there are some specific behaviors that signal the need for professional help.  Although this isn’t a complete list, here are a few definite warning signs that you should seek professional help:

  • Cruelty to animals
  • Fire setting
  • Sexualized behavior
  • Aggressive behaviors (outside of normal occasional aggression in preschoolers)- threats, breaking things, throwing things, or hurting others
  • Self-injury- head banging, cutting, substance abuse
  • Extreme non-compliance
  • Lack of behavior change despite consistent consequences
  • Evidence of psychosis- reports hearing or seeing things that other people don’t see or hear
  • Lack of remorse or lack of empathy for other people’s feelings

How a Professional Can Help

A child behavior expert can rule out any mental health issues that may be behind the behavior problems, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. If your child has ADHD, a professional can discuss treatment options and discipline strategies that are effective for ADHD.

At other times, depression can contribute to behavioral issues. For example, a depressed teenager is likely to be irritable and may refuse to get up in the morning for school or may want to spend the majority of his time in his room.

Anxiety disorders can also lead to behavior problems. An anxious tween may become argumentative or non-compliant if he’s worried about something. A complete evaluation will help rule out any mental health conditions and treating these underlying conditions may lead to great improvements in behavior.

A professional will make recommendations and can refer your child for services. For example, a child who has been traumatized by a serious event may benefit from individual counseling. Or, a child who is struggling to adjust to a new blended family situation may benefit from individual or family therapy.

At other times, a parenting expert may want to work with you without your child present. Providing support and training to parents can lead to the fastest results when it comes to many behavior problems.

When caregivers learn how to coach kids and practice using various behavior modification techniques, it can be much more effective than a therapist working with the child for only one hour per week.

Sometimes outpatient services may not be enough. If behavior problems are serious, a home based service may be warranted. Home based programs provide intensive services that take place in your home to help coach you to make discipline more effective. In extreme cases, residential treatment may be necessary if a child is not able to remain safely in the community.

How to Seek Help

If you suspect your child's behavior problems aren't normal, speak to the pediatrician. Discuss your concerns and if necessary, your doctor can refer you to a child behavior expert for an evaluation. A trained mental health professional can assess your needs and develop a strategy to address the behavior problems effectively.

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