Behavioural disorders

You are here

An increasing number of children are being diagnosed with a behavioural disorder. But what exactly does that mean?

There are two main recognised behavioural conditions: Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) and Conduct Disorder. Both of these conditions are exactly what their names suggest: severe bad behaviour, which can present many challenges for parents or carers. All children display some negative behaviour at some time, but in children with a behavioural disorder it is severe enough to be diagnosed as a condition. The diagnosis comes from the psychologist’s observation of the child – there is no physical test – and the child will display some, or possibly all, of the following symptoms:

  • aggression towards people and animals
  • frequently argues with adults
  • destroys or vandalises property
  • frequently loses temper
  • actively defies or challenges authority
  • blames others for his or her behaviour
  • is easily angered
  • bullies, threatens, initiates fights or arguments
  • steals, lies, truants.

You can add to this list any other negative behaviour, but to an extent that would not normally be seen in a child without a behavioural disorder.

An estimated 4–9 per cent of children are thought to have a behavioural disorder, and it is often present with another disorder, for example ADHD. A behavioural disorder can govern and ruin a child’s life as well as the lives of their parents or carers, and the well-being of the family unit. The sooner a child is recognised as having such a disorder, the sooner change can begin. A child who still displays uncontrolled and uncontrollable behaviour into his or her teenage years will be far more difficult to turn around.

Recognised treatment for ODD or a conduct disorder is based on the premise that a metabolic dysfunction has combined with environmental factors (e.g. poor discipline) to produce the condition. There is no tablet remedy, and treatment focuses on changing the unacceptable behaviour through clear, firm, consistent guidelines, with a system of rewards and sanctions. (You may find the suggestions in my book Happy Kids useful). As the child gradually develops internal self-regulation, his or her challenges to authority will lessen.

If a psychologist is involved, you will be working together, and you and your child may be offered counselling, which can be a useful source of comfort and support as you journey through this very difficult time. It may be suggested that you pay attention to the child’s diet, exchanging processed food for fresh, removing as many additives as you can, and if necessary adding an omega-3 supplement.

I know it is exhausting and upsetting caring for a child who is continually challenging you so try to take time out for yourself. And of course discuss all your concerns about the child with your support social worker as well as updating the child’s social worker.

Cathy x (