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The London Psychiatry Centre / Blog  / Bad Behaviour In Children – A Mental Health Issue?
Bad Behaviour In Children – A Mental Health Issue?

Bad Behaviour In Children – A Mental Health Issue?

If you’re a parent or caregiver, you probably won’t be a stranger to temper tantrums and bad behaviour in children. Most young children will express themselves by crying, shouting or even throwing objects such as their toys when they don’t get what they want. This is normal behaviour and, usually, these outbursts will reduce in frequency as the child grows up and understands how to act appropriately.

According to a 2012 study, over 80% of preschoolers had tantrums sometimes, but only 8.6% had daily tantrums. The study showed that milder behaviors tended to reflect frustration in expectable contexts, while clinically concerning problem indicators were unpredictable, prolonged, and/or destructive.

If you find that your child’s misbehaviour happens without cause, becomes unreasonably frequent or unsafe for them or other children or adults around them, including yourself, then you may need to consider that there is an underlying issue like ADHD, OCD, anxiety or depression, which is causing them to act out.

When Does Bad Behaviour Become A Serious Issue?

It can be very difficult to tell the difference between normal misbehaviour and an underlying mental health issue which results in bad behaviour. It is not advisable to attempt to make a diagnosis based on a comparison between your child’s behaviour and that of another child, as context plays a large part in how a child behaves.

That said, there are signs which may indicate that it is time to seek the help of a children’s mental health specialist. These include:

  • Frequently throwing tantrums or being highly irritable
  • Regular outbursts of shouting or screaming without cause
  • Hurting or attempting to hurt other children or themselves
  • Consistently defying orders

There are also signs that may not be classed as ‘bad behaviour’, but could manifest alongside the above to indicate an underlying mental health issue. These include:

  • Often talking about fears and worries, which may be recurring
  • Constantly fidgeting or talking quickly
  • Complaining about stomach or headaches on a regular basis in the absence of a physical medical issue
  • Disinterest in playtime or alternative enriching activities
  • Regularly sleeping too little or too much
  • Having frequent nightmares
  • Struggling to complete or engage in schoolwork
  • Repeating actions out of fear that something bad may happen

Finding The Cause Of Bad Behaviour

The odd occurance of bad behaviour can be a result of hunger, tiredness, boredom or wanting to ‘show off’ in front of others. It may not always be easy to correct this behaviour, but with consistent corrections occurrences and severity should decrease over time.

However, there are many catalysts which cause bad behaviour to increase in frequency and even get worse. These can include:

  • Bullying: If a child is being bullied, they may not feel confident enough to tell an adult, and instead exhibit negative or destructive behaviour, or even bully other children.
  • Significant life events: A divorce, moving home, the death of a family member or pet, or a new sibling can impact a child.
  • Learning disabilities: Whether diagnosed or not, learning disabilities can be extremely frustrating for a child. However, if a learning disability goes undiagnosed, it can seem like the child is acting out for no apparent reason.

Mental health issues can also be a cause of bad behaviour. Conversely, the above catalysts can be factors that contribute to a child to developing a mental health problem if left unchecked.

If your child goes to nursery, infant or primary school, they may act differently to how they act at home. It’s important to talk to your child’s teachers and carers regularly to understand more about their behaviour within certain contexts.

Lucille Balcombe, Mental Health Nurse and CBT Therapist at The London Psychiatry Centre explains: “We have a highly experienced child and adolescent mental health service (CAMHS) team here at The London Psychiatry Centre. Psychologists, psychiatrists, nurses and therapists are on hand to carefully diagnose any issues, tailor a treatment plan and help make things easier for you and your child by offering support even if there are no underlying issues.”

If you have concerns about your child, in the first instance you should seek an appointment with your GP, health visitor or make an appointment with a specialist.

To make an appointment at The London Psychiatry Centre, please don’t hesitate to call our friendly administration team who will be able to assist you with any enquiries and book you and your child in for an initial consultation. Call now on 020 7580 4224 or email info@psychiatrycentre.co.uk.

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