When to Seek Professional Help for Behavior Problems

Look for warning signs that your child may need professional help for behavior problems.

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All children act out at one time or another. They may interrupt others, throw tantrums, or disobey the rules. But when these issues become problematic or the behavior problems become more severe, your child's actions may signal a more significant issue. When this happens, it's important to talk with your child's pediatrician or mental health professional.

Meeting with a trained professional doesn't mean your child is crazy, nor does it mean you're an incompetent parent. Sometimes, for one reason or another, kids just need a little extra support or a different type of discipline to perform at their best. Early intervention is often the key to successful treatment.

If you’re questioning whether your child may need help, don't hesitate to seek treatment.

Talking to a child behavior specialist may put your mind at ease, especially if there are no serious problems. If problems are detected, a child behavior specialist can address the problem before it gets worse. Then, you and your child can begin heading in a healthier direction.

General Warning Signs

If you're like most parents, you may wonder what constitutes problematic behavior and what is normal childhood behavior. While there are many reasons you might seek professional help for your child, here are some general warning signs that you may want to get additional input and assistance for your child's behavior.

  • Your discipline strategies aren't working. If your discipline techniques aren’t effective, a mental health professional or child behavior expert can help you discover and implement alternative discipline techniques. 
  • Your child's behavior interferes with school. When children are frequently removed from the classroom or have trouble getting work done due to behavior issues, they may need professional help.
  • Your child's behavior impacts their social life. It's important for kids to have positive social interactions. When behavior prevents them from making or keeping friends, it's important to seek help. 
  • Your child's behavior is not developmentally appropriate. If your 8-year-old still throws frequent temper tantrums or your 10-year-old hits people, those behaviors are not developmentally appropriate. Seek help if your child's behavior seems immature compared to other kids their age. 

Specific Red Flags

Of course, there are some behavior issues that should never be ignored. For children of any age, these specific behaviors signal the need for professional help right away. Although this list isn’t exhaustive, the following are a few warning signs that definitely require input and evaluation from a professional.

  • Aggressive behaviors: Making threats, getting into fights, breaking things, throwing things, hurting others, or engaging in other aggressive actions
  • Criminal behaviors: Setting things on fire, vandalizing property, stealing things, or breaking into houses or schools
  • Cruelty to animals: Hurting or tormenting the family pet or other people's animals
  • Evidence of psychosis: Hearing or seeing things that other people don’t see or hear
  • Extreme non-compliance: Refusing to follow rules, lying about actions, running away, or being disruptive
  • Frequent truancy: Skipping classes or school on a regular basis
  • Lack of behavior change: Being unaffected by requests or refusing to make changes despite consistent consequences
  • Lack of remorse or empathy: Having little concern or care for other people’s feelings
  • Self-injury: Engaging in headbanging, cutting, or substance misuse
  • Sexualized behavior: Making sexualized comments or acting out sexual behaviors

How a Professional Can Help

Disruptive behaviors are complicated and require careful evaluation. A child behavior expert can identify or rule out any mental health issues that may be behind the behavior problems, such as a conduct disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

For instance, if your child has ADHD, a professional can discuss treatment options and discipline strategies that are effective for ADHD. Anxiety disorders also can also lead to behavior problems. Anxious tweens may become argumentative or non-compliant if they're worried about something.

At other times, depression can contribute to behavioral issues. For example, depressed teenagers are likely to be irritable and may refuse to get up in the morning for school or may want to spend the majority of their time in their room.

A complete evaluation will help determine if your child has any mental health conditions. Treating these underlying conditions may lead to great improvements in behavior. Generally, a professional will make recommendations and may refer your child for services.

For example, a child who has been traumatized by a serious event or is repeatedly subjected to bullying may benefit from individual counseling. Or, a child who is struggling to adjust to a new blended family situation may benefit from individual or family therapy.

At other times, a parenting expert may want to work with you without your child present. Providing support and training to parents can lead to the fastest results when it comes to many behavior problems.

When caregivers learn how to coach kids and practice using various behavior modification techniques, it can be much more effective than a therapist working with the child for only one hour per week.

Sometimes outpatient services may not be enough. If behavior problems are significant, a home-based service may be warranted. Home-based programs provide intensive services that take place in your home to help coach you to make discipline more effective. In extreme cases, residential treatment may be necessary if a child is not able to remain safely in the community.

A Word From Verywell

Although behavior problems can be challenging to deal with, having a child with these issues is nothing to be ashamed of. With early intervention and treatment, you can anticipate a better outcome than delaying treatment would provide. So, don't hesitate to ask your child's doctor for guidance.

If you suspect your child's behavior problems aren't normal, talk with your child's pediatrician. Discuss your concerns, and if necessary, your doctor can refer you to a child behavior expert for an evaluation. A trained mental health professional can assess your child and develop a strategy to address the behavior problems effectively.

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Article Sources
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.
  1. American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. When to seek help for your child. Updated March 2015.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Treatment of ADHD. Updated October 8, 2019.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Anxiety and depression in children. Updated March 30, 2020.

  4. Steeves JA, Thompson DL, Bassett DR, Fitzhugh EC, Raynor HA. A review of different behavior modification strategies designed to reduce sedentary screen behaviors in children. J Obes. 2012;2012:379215. doi:10.1155/2012/379215

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