Emotional or behavioral disorders in children manifest in a number of ways. A child with an emotional or behavioral disorder might be depressed, avoid building relationships with their peers or struggle to learn and grasp concepts in the classroom. Children with these disorders also misbehave, which can make life difficult for parents and children alike. Understanding emotional or behavioral disorders and ways to treat them can improve the quality of life for the entire family.
Describing a disorder as emotional or behavioral is a general term, and there are several different types of disorders that fall into this broad category. Understanding what type of disorder your child has is the first step in treating it. A child with an anxiety disorder might struggle to socialize or have phobias. A conduct disorder is marked by misbehavior; a child might act out in the classroom or at home and not respond to discipline. A child who withdraws from life and has anxiety might have a personality disorder.
Proper diagnosis of the emotional or behavioral disorder is essential in order to properly treat it; however, it can be difficult to determine whether your child’s behavior is a normal childhood behavioral issue or the sign of a disorder. Dixie Jordan of the PACER Center, an organization for children with disabilities, recommends a three-fold assessment of your child’s behavior. Consider the duration of the problematic behavior, the intensity of the behavior and the age of the child. If your child’s behavior has been going on for months and is getting worse, schedule a mental health assessment.
The mental health assessment can target what emotional or behavioral disorder your child is suffering from. Talk to your child’s school to see if a special education teacher or counselor can assess your child. Your child’s pediatrician can also help with the assessment. This team of knowledgeable professionals can identify the disorder and recommend professional treatment, which might include regular meetings with a child therapist to help the child work through his emotional or behavioral problems.
You can work on improving your child’s outlook and behavior at home as well. When your child acts out or shows signs of the disorder, point them out. Show him examples of children who are behaving properly, and encourage him to follow their lead. Set clear house rules, and enforce them fairly. Praise your child when he follows the rules. Show him respect, even when you are disciplining him and working him through his emotional or behavioral problems.
- Education.com; Emotional and Behavioral Disorders in Children: Characteristics; W.L. Heward
- PACER Center; Does My Child Have an Emotional or Behavioral Disorder?; Dixie Jordan
- Council for Exceptional Children: Behavior Disorders/Emotional Disturbances
- Bridges 4 Kids; Treating Emotional and Behavioral Disorders in Children and Adolescents; Shanna Shulman, et al.; December 2006