evening, when my oldest son was barely 3 years old, he decided he wasnít
ready to come in for the night. He hung from the front doorknob in
protest, yelling "outside!" over and over again. I was a new
parent and had read to ignore tantrums ó "let it play out"
was the advice. Well, he went on for 45 minutes. On one hand, I was
admittedly proud of his dedication, but on the other, I was a little
worried it might not be normal behavior.
terrible twos to moody teenage years, most children have behavioral
issues at one time or another. The question is, how do you know if it
is just a stage and a healthy part of growing up or if it is the sign
of something more serious?
According to Dr.
Mark Siegel, medical director of child and adolescent services at
Aurora Behavioral Health Center, the most common phases that children
go through are negativistic behavior (ages 2-4), calmer latency age
behavior (ages 7-11), increased oppositional behavior (ages 13-16),
and increased intensity in friendships and disengagement from parents
Siegel says that
these behaviors become concerning when the child begins to show
aggressive or destructive behavior, experiences increased depression
after age 13, becomes isolative or uncommunicative, has falling grades
at school, or engages in self-harm.
Apart from a
tantrum, any real concerns for most parents begin when the child hits
adolescence. The bigger the kid, the bigger the problem. "It is
normal for parents to have concerns and even fears when their children
become adolescents and go through changes with their moods and
emotions. While occasional mood swings and outbursts are not uncommon
for kids entering their preteen and teenage years, frequent and
unusual behavior could indicate serious issues with confidence,
self-esteem and/or bullying," says Angela Skebba, certified
adolescent self-esteem coach and former pediatric nurse.
Siegel, one-third of all adolescents go through periods of moodiness
with no severe acting-out behaviors. What should we look for?
"Disruptive behavior and self-harm behaviors are not normal and
require treatment," he says. Skebba says parents should watch for
signs such as loss of interest in friends and social activities,
sadness, anxiety, decline in grades and fear of failure.
situations can act as a trigger for specific behavioral issues, and it
is a good idea to monitor your child more closely if they have
experienced any personal trauma. Siegel points to divorce of the
parents, changing schools, a death of a loved one, a breakup with
boyfriend or girlfriend, falling out with friends, peer pressure,
increased school demands and poor grades as some factors to keep
innumerable signs of growing mental health needs and concerns of young
people in America," says Dr. Mark Batory, a child and adolescent
psychiatrist at American Behavioral Clinics. "The percentage of
young Americans being prescribed psychotropic medications continues to
climb. By 2010, the percentage of Americans 17 and younger taking a
psychotropic medication passed the 10 percent mark. That trend is
continuing and is projected to reach 20 percent by the end of this
If a parent is
seriously concerned, what should they do? "Discuss the problem
with your primary physician or pediatrician and consider having your
child evaluated by a reputable and certified child therapist,"
says Siegel. "If the problem is dangerous behavior to self or
others, then you should seek immediate evaluation for hospital-based
Batory says that
if you are legitimately concerned about your childís behavior, it is
imperative to seek help because the problems the child is facing may
have long-term effects on their lives. "There is an ever-growing
body of evidence that most adult mental, behavioral and even physical
health problems (e.g., migraines) have their origins in a collective
failure to respond to the psychological sufferings of these persons
while they are young,"