Sometimes kids can exhibit behaviors that indicate they are at risk for social and emotionally difficulties later in life. These challenges can leave the child frustrated and unable to positively cope with change or stressful situations at home or school. Angered or confused, he or she may resort to violent and aggressive behavior, leaving a parent feeling helpless and alone.
Kids with a challenging childhood can go on to lead healthy and successful lives in their communities. The most effective strategy for working with children who need extra emotional support is always prevention. Therefore it’s important to know the predictors for behavioral problems and meet them head on with the right support and care.
Predictors for Behavioral Problems
- Exposure to violence – Children who are exposed to violence or abuse are more at risk for behavioral problems. If a child learns to be suspicious of other people’s motives in life, then chances are they won’t feel like they can depend on adults or their peers when in crisis.
- Family dynamics – If parents only pay attention to their child when he or she misbehaves, and they don’t respond with encouragement when the child acts appropriately, a child may perform the negative behavior to seek attention. They are also more likely to react to stressful situations with more unpredictable behaviors and self-criticism.
- Individual differences – Genetics and early exposure to trauma can both play a role in creating behavioral challenges. If their community or school lacks the resources to help a child develop emotional and socially, children are more likely to act impulsively when environments change or when they become distressed.
It’s also imperative to recognize the early warning signs that can lead to emotional and behavioral problems. Some of these include:
- Feeling rejected or worthless
- Isolating and not making friends
- Violent writings or drawings
- Alcohol or drug use
- Lack of interest in positive activities
- Difficulty controlling anger
- Bullying or intimidating peers
- Prejudice towards people who are different
If you’re not sure how to provide the help your child needs, let’s take a look at a few starting guidelines.
Don’t increase harm. Troubled behavior or signs of it are not an excuse to punish or isolate a child but rather to get them help. Stereotyping a child can be damaging as well. Don’t assume that school performance, financial status, or physical appearances are signs of potential troubled behavior. And never assume that one sign means the child will exhibit behavioral problems. However, if a child threatens to harm himself or herself or others, seek help immediately to prevent the actions from being carried out. Make sure the child does not have access to weapons or other ways or acting out self-harm.
Observe and model. Many troubled children have aggressive or violent behavior because it is how they have learned to cope with the challenges of life. No one has modeled to them positive ways of coping with life, or they have only been shown attention when they misbehave. By understanding the motivations and origins of the behavior, you can begin to make positive interventions that highlight progress and encourage resilience. Listen to the child’s concerns and help make them feel safe and heard. Don’t just punish bad behavior, but reward positive ways of dealing with anger and stress. Model this in your own behavior.
Recognize developmental tasks. Sometimes we can see behavior and think it is a warning sign when actually it is developmentally appropriate for the child’s age. Learning to interact socially and emotionally are skills that take time to develop, and each child is different in their progression. Children may also regress to prior developmental stages for a short term if they’ve experienced a loss or trauma, such as experiencing separation anxiety or clinging to a familiar and comforting object. Be patient, and don’t hesitate to seek professional evaluation of developmental progress.
Above all, never forget that there are multiple factors involved in predicting troubled behavior, many of which are out of anyone’s control. Use your energy for being there for your child and helping him or her get help rather than blaming yourself or feeling guilty. Mental health professionals and school staff exist to help children learn to cope positively with life as they transition into adolescence and adulthood. Don’t feel like you have to address the issue alone. You can’t be with your child 24 hours a day, so it’s important that other people are there to support them.