What’s Causing My Child to Act Out? What You Need to Know
While we all prefer to focus on our children’s positive qualities – their personalities, accomplishments, and milestones – we as parents know that they’re still developing the tools to deal with disappointments, stress, uncertainties, and fears.
Sometimes, they argue or show aggression. Other times, their moods quickly shift, and they become quiet, distant, or even disruptive. Like it or not, this is all normal.
When these and other types of behavioral problems become persistent over time, however, this can be symptomatic of a more significant issue. When it reaches this point, it’s beneficial to determine the underlying cause (or causes) of these behavioral problems so they can be addressed at home or, if needed, by professionals.
What Causes Behavioral Issues in Kids?
At Rainbow Pediatrics of Fayetteville, we provide basic behavioral health services for children and will refer them to a specialist if necessary. Based on our training and years of experience, many of the most common causes of long-term behavioral issues in kids are a result of the following:
Children who do not get enough sleep have negative behaviors, poor focus, can appear drowsy or hyperactive and are usually moody or even aggressive. Problems sleeping have a variety of causes, from behavioral problems affecting going to or staying in the bed, poor bed-time routines, bedtimes that are not appropriate for age, and even sleep apnea or narcolepsy in children.
Lack of exercise
Especially in the last year, most children have been kept primarily indoors and are lacking in the needed minimum of one hour of moderate-intensity exercise daily, as well as minimal sun exposure to obtain their Vitamin D. Children’s behavior, mood, focus, energy level, and sleep improve dramatically with a lot of outside play!
Many children are nutritionally deficient due to picky eating habits, and some are underweight, others obese. Nutrition and weight can both affect mood, focus, energy level, and behavior.
Stress or Anxiety
Kids frequently encounter new experiences or even expectations that they don’t fully understand – from social situations to school-related stress. Kids prone to anxiety may find themselves in situations that trigger their levels of stress and anxiety. It’s common for destructive behaviors to manifest from these situations, which is an indication that they’re unsure or unable to cope appropriately. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), just over 7 percent of U.S. kids and teens have been diagnosed with anxiety.
It’s estimated that about one in 10 kids have or will deal with a learning disability at some point in their childhood. Frustration can occur when learning to read and write, do homework, write papers, or answer questions during class. Often their response to the frustration is acting out or losing their temper. Usually, this is simply a way to avoid asking for help or divert attention from the issues they’re having. But, unfortunately, such actions can continue if such disorders are left unaddressed.
Some kids feel more in certain situations than their peers. Whether from oversensitivity or difficulty in processing an abundance of sensory information, the feelings can become overwhelming and evolve into behavioral issues until the sensory issues are identified and addressed. Some examples can include becoming overstimulated by noise, brightness, crowds. Additionally, anything that can suddenly increase anxiety levels in a child will trigger his or her fight-or-flight response.
Pediatric depression is a growing problem that has only worsened, according to recent studies, in the past year. Part of the blame is likely due to Covid19 virtual learning, leading to social isolation for many children, as well as the stress that even the youngest children could perceive during the pandemic. Prior to Covid19, some studies suggested that up to 8% or more of Americans had ever been diagnosed with depression. Symptoms of depression in children include sadness or irritability, loss of interest in their usual activities, changes in weight, sleep problems, restlessness, fatigue, feeling worthless or guilty, focus problems, and thoughts of death to include suicidality.
Kids with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are often more prone to fits and meltdowns, often due to unexpected changes in routine or an inability to communicate with and relate to other people. According to the CDC, about 1 in 54 children have ASD, and each can vary in severity and symptoms. In addition, some non-verbal kids with ASD may have behavioral issues due to unknown underlying conditions, such as allergies, constipation, acid reflux, etc.
Sadly, some kids with behavioral issues may have experienced trauma in their lives that even adults would have difficulty managing. Not only can’t they make sense of what’s happened, but they aren’t equipped to process the experience or temper any hostility related to this experience. So, they lash out, become distant, underachieve, or build off the negativity around them.
What To Do if My Child Has Behavioral Problems?
If you feel your child’s behavioral problems have crossed the line and are no longer within a normal range, it may be time to consult a professional. In our practice, Laurie Powers, PA-C, CCMS, provides behavioral health and nutrition screening as well as treatment for a variety of conditions and concerns. Her goal is to ensure that any mental, emotional, and physical problems affecting your child’s behavior and mood are identified. Her work-up is specific to your child and may include lab work or testing to rule out things like sleep apnea, sensory processing disorders, developmental delays/autism, vitamin deficiencies, seizures, etc.
From there, Mrs. Powers can better guide you toward educational and treatment options that lead to the best, most empowering outcomes for your child. Her treatment plan may include lifestyle changes, a therapy referral, treatment of vitamin deficiencies, or medication management, as well as others.
Because we are a primary care setting, there are certain situations that we immediately refer to a variety of pediatric specialty clinics. To learn more and to see if your child’s behavioral problems are appropriate for our in-house primary care workup and treatment, contact us at one of our clinics today!