When Is Naughty Too Naughty?

Behavioral problemsBehavioural problems are more than the mischievous toddler or child who occasionally gets into a sticky situation and faces the wrath of an annoyed mom or dad – behavioural problems are far more serious. In some cases the behavioural problems in a toddler can have a far-reaching effect on the entire family – where mom and dad blame each other for the child’s behaviour and where other family members are virtually forgotten because the attention is continually focused on the misbehaving or -problem’ child.


Common behavioural problems

If you think of the well-known cartoon character, Dennis the Menace, you will appreciate what a child with severe behavioural problems can get up to. From an early age, a child will be determined to destroy toys, antagonise pets, and lie (for no apparent reason). Toddlers will show little restraint and will throw tantrums, bite, pinch and bully. The child with a behavioural disorder will constantly challenge and defy their parents, their teachers, and their siblings. A lot of parents may wrongfully dismiss this unruly and disruptive behaviour as being the terrible twos, but the fact is that if the behaviour is not rectified, the child’s conduct will continue and it will worsen with age. Children suffering from a disorder will not understand why they are acting up and although they may try very hard to live up to their parent’s expectations and pleas and try to be -a good boy or girl’ – they seem to be out of control and their perceived failure and their inability to be -good’ only worsens the disorder.


The different types of behavioural disorders

Most people are aware of ADHD or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder; however few parents are aware of the many other disorders which exist. These include adjustment disorder, attachment disorder, Bipolar or manic depression, anxiety disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder and post traumatic stress disorder.

Each of these disorders will cause a child to react differently in situations and because these disorders affect their ability to reason, they are unable to control their emotions and their actions. Living with a child with a severe behavioural disorder can have a detrimental effect on the nucleus of the family. If parents suspect that their child is suffering from a behavioural disorder, they are urged to seek the assistance and advice of a trained professional who will correctly diagnosis the child and suggest the best way forward. Treatment for the disorder will vary and the professional will come up with a long term (if necessary) care and treatment plan that is suited to best meet the needs of the child.


Attachment disorder

This disorder is particularly common in children who have been adopted or who have spent time in foster care or cared for by family members. With this disorder, an infant or young child was unable to form an emotional bond with their primary caregiver. The child’s basic emotional needs, such as love, care, nurturing and affection were not satisfied during the formative years of their life.

Children, who are at high risk of developing an attachment disorder, include:

  • Children who are abused or neglected;
  • Children separated from their primary caregiver because of death or illness;
  • Infants in foster homes or care-homes where caregivers are unable to provide individual care and attention;
  • A child whose mother abused alcohol or drugs during pregnancy;
  • A child who is brought up in an environment which is void of any emotion;
  • If they were a result of an unwanted pregnancy;
  • When the primary caregiver suffers from severe depression and cannot meet the emotional needs of the child.
The common symptoms of Attachment disorder:
  • Inability to make eye contact;
  • Diminished control of impulses;
  • No interest shown in interactive games;
  • As children suffering from this disorder they will exhibit superficial behaviours and be abnormally social – laughing loudly at inappropriate times etc.;
  • Hostile and angry at times.


Bipolar Disorder

Previously it was thought that Bipolar disorder could not affect very young children, however, this view is changing and professionals agree that very young children can suffer from Bipolar Disorder. Children suffering from Bipolar Disorder will undergo severe mood changes within minutes (from overexcited or manic to depressed). Energy levels decrease as does their ability to think logically.

The most common tell-tale sign of this disorder is the drastic mood changes. Other symptoms of Bipolar may include, children raging with anger (for the slightest mishap or for no apparent reason), a disinterest in playmates or games, bed wetting, nightmares, hallucinations, a craving for sweets, and impulsive behaviour. Children with Bipolar Disorder may not necessarily display all the listed symptoms and other children may exhibit a mixture of pronounced behavioural problems.

Sadly there is no cure for Bipolar Disorder, but it can be effectively controlled with medication and therapy. If a child has been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and medication is prescribed, the child’s behaviour will be monitored to determine if the medication needs to be altered.


Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

PTSD is a common disorder that is developed by children and adults in a response to a very traumatic experience. This may be caused by witnessing or surviving a natural disaster, witnessing or being involved in a crime, or due to an accident. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder tends to affect boys more than girls. Since young children are not able to find the correct words to vocalise their feelings and emotions, they are find it difficult to cope with a particular traumatic experience. Common symptoms of this disorder include a change in sleeping patterns, nightmares, an emotional numbness and the inability to remember the event or trouble remembering the sequence of the event. Flashbacks are very common and children will display fearfulness and anxiety when in a similar situation. Sounds or smells may also spark the child’s memories and this will result anxiety or fear. Older children, especially teenagers, may act out by becoming overly aggressive towards others or create an -untouchable’ demeanour, in a bid to protect themselves and to show others that the trauma did not have any effect on them.

Parents, who suspect that their child is suffering from a behavioural disorder, can visit the website This websites provides a comprehensive listing of doctors in South Africa that concentrate on behavioural disorders.


 – Kathy Baron


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