Signs That Your Child May Have a Disruptive Behavior Disorder

How to tell if your child has a disruptive behavior and what to do

a young girl screaming

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It's common for children to display behavior problems such as tantrums, being defiant, talking back, and not listening. There's probably not a parent out there who's not familiar with the challenging behaviors kids can sometimes engage in as they mature, learn how to control their impulses, and test boundaries.

But in some cases, children may display behavior that may fall under the category of "disruptive behavior." As the term suggests, disruptive behaviors are just that—behaviors at home, school, and elsewhere that literally disrupt the normal flow of things. 

Signs of Disruptive Behavior Disorders

Children with a disruptive behavior disorder will show repeated and persistent pattern of anger, defiance, backtalk, troubling managing and regulating their emotions, and even hostile or aggressive behavior toward grownups and other children. It's basically what you might see in a typical child, but more—more intense, more frequent, more ongoing, and more difficult to control.

Not surprisingly, these behaviors will have a negative impact on how these kids do in school and at home and will affect their social relationships with parents, siblings, teachers, and peers. The most common types of disruptive behavior disorders are oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) and conduct disorder.

Symptoms of Oppositional Defiant Disorder

Children with ODD exhibit behaviors that are less aggressive than conduct disorders but should still be addressed with interventions. Some symptoms of ODD include:

  • Frequently throwing temper tantrums and showing anger
  • Frequently arguing with adults
  • Resistance to authority—constantly refusing to follow rules or comply with requests from adults
  • Blaming others for his mistakes
  • Deliberately annoying others
  • Often vindictive and spiteful; seeking revenge
  • Easily annoyed by others

Conduct disorder, in contrast, is more serious and may be associated with violent or aggressive acts. Conduct disorder is often diagnosed as ODD in younger children. Children who have conduct disorder typically ignore or abuse other people's feelings intentionally and ignore other people's rights. Common signs of a conduct disorder include:

  • Aggression toward other people (including bullying or making threats)
  • Refusal to follow rules or limits at home and at school (such as cutting school)
  • Lying
  • Stealing
  • Vandalizing
  • Substance abuse
  • Cutting school
  • Attacking others physically
  • Abusing animals

What to Do If You Suspect Your Child Might Have a Behavior Disorder

  • First, talk to your child's pediatrician. There are many resources and professionals who may be able to diagnose your child and provide information and assistance.
  • Act now to address concerns. School-age children are developing important skills academically and socially; anything that interferes with your child's ability to learn, follow directions, and make friends can have a big impact on his development and how well he does in school.
  • Look for other possibly-related conditions. Research has shown that many children who have been diagnosed with ADHD may also be diagnosed with ODD. Get the right diagnosis so that you can find the right course of action to help your child.
  • Don't minimize the seriousness of conduct disorders. If your child acts in an aggressive or violent way, take steps immediately to protect those around your child--and your child as well. Call your pediatrician and consult a pediatric mental health professional right away.
  • Know that you are not alone and that there are solutions. Many parents are dealing with behavior disorders at this very minute. Know that there are many qualified professionals who can help you find a solution that will work for your family. Treatments can include therapists working with parents and kids to help parents with setting limits, strengthening the parent-child bond, and reducing disruptive behaviors.
  • Take care of yourself. It can be enormously stressful dealing with a child who is aggressive, impulsive, and disobedient. Be sure to find ways to manage your own stress, whether it's through walking, talking to friends, meditation, or yoga. And when you find yourself becoming angry and frustrated, take a few moments and step away from your child to calm down before you discipline your child.
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