Behavioural Issues

By Dr Evelyn Lewin

Throughout development, children undergo a range of behaviours. Some can be problematic, such as biting or hitting. If these behaviours are age-appropriate and do not persist, they are usually considered ‘normal’. When these behaviours persist, affect learning or they are not age-appropriate, the child may have a behavioural issue. Some common behavioural issues in children are:  ADHD, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Conduct Disorder & Spectrum Related Disorders (Autism, Aspergers). There is no single cause for these conditions. However, they are all more common in boys.


According to Better - All young children can be naughty, defiant and impulsive from time to time, which is perfectly normal. However, some children have extremely difficult and challenging behaviours that are outside the norm for their age. The most common disruptive behaviour disorders include oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), conduct disorder (CD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). These three behavioural disorders share some common symptoms, so diagnosis can be difficult and time consuming. A child or adolescent may have two disorders at the same time.

  • Oppositional Defiant Disorder:   These children have low self-esteem, are defiant and unwilling to obey rules. They anger easily, fight with their parents often and have frequent tantrums and outbursts.
  • Conduct Disorder:  Children with conduct disorder lack empathy. They are therefore more likely to engage in aggressive or harmful behaviours, such as hurting animals and other people.
  • Other symptoms of behavioural issues include: Easily angered, annoyed or irritated, Frequent temper tantrums or difficulty learning, Argues frequently with adults, particularly the most familiar adults in their lives, such as parents, Refuses to obey rules, Seems to deliberately try to annoy or aggravate others, Low self-esteem, Low frustration threshold, Seeks to blame others for any misfortunes or misdeeds.


A psychologist, psychiatrist or paediatrician can make the diagnosis of a behavioural issue. Diagnosis may involve more than one health professional. Once a diagnosis is made, it is best to initiate treatment. A key part of treatment is therapy. Therapy may involve the child, who may be taught anger management or social skills. Behavioural training programs such as these help improve children’s behaviour over time. Therapy may also involve the parent. Parent directed therapy teaches parents to communicate more effectively with the child, and help him manage his behaviour. Family therapy involves both the child and parent together. Medication may be useful in some cases. Having a child with a behavioural issue can be challenging. Speak to your GP if you feel you are not coping. If you are worried your child’s behaviour may put either your child, or someone else, at risk of immediate harm, call the police or an ambulance. 

Reviewed by Dr Evelyn Lewin 25 February 2015 references
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This document has been developed and peer reviewed by a KIDS HEALTH Advisory Board Representative and is based on expert opinion and the available published literature at the time of review. Information contained in this document is not intended to replace medical advice and any questions regarding a medical diagnosis or treatment should be directed to a medical practitioner.

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