Sudden Behavioral Changes and Warning Signs in Children

a child running down a walkway
Petri Artturi Asikainen/The Image Bank/Getty Images

There are a number of different child behaviors that parents should watch for that may be signs that a child is in distress. Parents who utilize child care are often especially concerned that certain behaviors might be tied to the quality of care issues.

Many developmental psychologists agree that when child care is "of high quality, there should be little reason to anticipate negative developmental outcomes". In fact, there is evidence that high-quality daycare can actually benefit children’s cognitive development more than at-home care alone.

However, it is still important for parents to keep a close eye on their child’s behavior. Early childhood is a time of rapid growth and development, which is why it is essential for children to have the appropriate care and support during this critical period.

Behavioral Changes to Look for in Children

The following are a few of the child behavioral warning signs to watch for. If your child begins displaying a sudden change in behavior, it may be time to investigate further and reconsider your current childcare situation.

Your Child Becomes Excessively Clingy

While all children need support and reassurance, becoming excessively clingy may be a sign of a problem. If you do notice a sudden change in your child, start noting when and where this behavior seems to occur most often.

Does your child become clingy before and after going to the sitter? If so, it is important to learn why your child needs additional attention from you during these times. Some separation anxiety may be normal, but an ongoing pattern may indicate that your child is not receiving the care and attention he or she needs from the sitter.

Your Child Cries Inconsolably at the Thought of Being Left With the Sitter

It’s perfectly normal for children to prefer being with their parents. However, having such a severe negative emotional reaction to one specific individual is a serious red flag. Does your child cry in response to all parental separation, or only in response to this specific sitter?

If the problem seems to lie with the sitter, it is time to reevaluate your childcare situation.

Your Child Has Frequent Accidents That Result in Cuts and Bruises

A few scratches and scrapes are a normal part of an active, healthy childhood, but a pattern of inexplicable accidents might be a warning sign of poor supervision or even physical abuse.

If your child has excessive accidents in the sitter’s care, investigate quickly to determine if further action is necessary.

Your Child Is Not Comfortable Communicating With the Babysitter

Your child should feel at ease and willing to share thoughts, concerns, feelings, and problems with both you and the sitter.

If your child has difficulty communicating with the sitter, it may be a sign that your child is not receiving the emotional support and guidance he or she needs.

Your Child Becomes Disobedient or Defiant

Sudden displays of uncharacteristic disobedience or defiance can signify an underlying problem with your childcare provider. In order to maintain stability and consistency, it is essential to develop a behavior plan of action with your child’s caretaker.

A good childcare provider will be willing to enforce the rules and disciplinary actions that you set. If misbehavior becomes a problem, it may be a sign that the sitter is not respecting your wishes on issues such as discipline, appropriate social behavior, and character development.

Your Child Exhibits a Noticeable Behavior Change

Sudden or dramatic changes in behavior are perhaps the most alarming warning signs. These behaviors may be displayed at home, among peers or during sleep. A previously outgoing child may become moody or withdrawn, or an even-tempered child may suddenly begin experiencing bouts of violent anger. If you notice a change in your child’s behavior or sleeping patterns, look into the situation immediately to find a solution or remedy for the problem and consult professional help from a physician or psychologist.

Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  • Belsky, J. (1990). Infant day care, child development, and family policy. Society, 27(5), 10-12.

  • National Institute of Child Health and Development, Early Child Care Research Network. (1997). The effects of infant child care on infant-mother attachment security: Results of the NICHD study of early child care. Child Development, 68, 860-879.

By Kendra Cherry
Kendra Cherry, MS, is an author, educational consultant, and speaker focused on helping students learn about psychology.