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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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. Early intervention is often the key to successful treatment.

If you’re questioning whether your child may need help, don't hesitate to seek treatment.

If there are no serious problems talking to a child behavior specialist put your mind at ease. If problems are detected, a child behavior specialist can address the problem before it gets worse.

General Warning Signs

While there are many reasons you might seek professional help for your child, here are some general warning signs that you should be on the lookout for:

  • Your discipline strategies aren't working. If your discipline techniques aren’t effective, a mental health professional or child behavior expert can help you discover alternative discipline techniques. 
  • Your child's behavior interferes with school. If your child is frequently removed from the classroom or he has trouble getting his work done due to his behavior, he may need professional help.
  • Your child's behavior impacts her social life. It's important for kids to have positive social interactions. If your child's behavior prevents her from making or keeping friends, it's important to seek help. 
  • Your child's behavior is not developmentally appropriate. If your 8-year-old still throws frequent temper tantrums or your 10-year-old hits people, those behaviors are not developmentally appropriate. Seek help if your child's behavior seems immature compared to other kids her age. 

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 may 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.

Sources

American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry: When to Seek Help for Your Child.

National Institute of Mental Health: Treatment of Children With Mental Illness.

 

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