Behavioral Disorders

Behavioral disorders typically develop in childhood or adolescence. While some behavioral issues may be normal in children, those who have behavioral disorders develop chronic patterns of aggression, defiance, disruption and hostility. Their behaviors cause problems at home, school or work, and can interfere with relationships. Children with behavioral disorders may develop personality disorders, depression, or bipolar disorder as adults.

Causes of Behavioral Disorders

The specific cause of behavioral disorders is not known, but a number of factors may contribute to their development. Genetics may play a role, as behavioral disorders are more common in children who have a family history of mental illness or substance abuse. Environment factors, such as unstable home life, child abuse, lack of supervision, and inconsistent discipline, all seem to increase the risk of children developing behavioral disorders.

Symptoms of Behavioral Disorders

All children have occasional behavioral issues. Problems that last more than six months and are more severe than those of peers may indicate that a behavioral disorder is present. These problems can develop into chronic patterns of aggression, hostility, defiance and disruption.
Common symptoms of behavioral disorders include:

  • Early sexual activity
  • Frequent or extended tantrums
  • Hostility
  • Lying
  • Open defiance of authority figures and parents
  • Property destruction
  • Rage
  • Self-destructive behaviors
  • Skipping school
  • Theft
  • Use of alcohol or drugs
  • Violent and aggressive acts, such as bullying, fighting, or animal cruelty

Treatment for Behavioral Disorders

Regular medical care for your child is an important first step in the prevention and treatment of behavioral disorders. This allows a health care professional to screen for and evaluate potential symptoms of a behavioral disorder.
Treatment often focuses on skill development for the child and parents. Children may benefit from cognitive development programs, social interaction skills training, and adaptive skills training. Parental skills training can also be beneficial. Educational, community and social programs may be available.

Psychological assessments and psychotherapy or other types of therapy may be helpful, especially if mood or other disorders are also present.