Behavioural disorders

For children and young people, their behaviour is a way of expressing their thoughts, feelings and physical sensations. Sometimes children and young people can find it hard to say in words how they feel or what is on their mind. Therefore it can be helpful to look at their behaviours, especially if there has been a change, to try and work out what might be behind that change.

When behaviour causes distress or harm to the child/young person, or to others, this can be of great concern and create difficulties at home, school and in social settings. Some parents and siblings describe it as ‘walking on eggshells’

Occasionally, a child will behave in a way that can be disruptive or aggressive because of something they are finding difficult – for example, an argument with a peer, worries about exams or stressful things at home. Being anxious and sad can mimic being cross and irritable. It is important to look behind the behaviour to try and understand where the aggression comes from, particularly if it is out of character for the child. In many situations, these behavioural outbursts settle and do not last.

However, some children show more serious behavioural difficulties that last for months or get worse and worse. These behaviours can cause everyone stress and worry including the young person. If children show patterns of behaviours which last for longer than a year in which the basic rights of others are violated, harm is done to others, and societal rules are not followed then they may benefit from an assessment for a possible conduct disorder.

On these occasions, CAMHS can provide support and help. The signs to look out for are:

  • If a child’s behaviour is aggressive, harmful (causing injury to others) and destructive on a regular basis for months
  • If their behaviour is out of the ordinary, and seriously breaks the rules accepted in both their home and school.

If you have concerns that your child or teenager is causing significant harm to others please contact your GP for advice.

More information

If you are worried that a child or young person may be exhibiting signs of a behavioural disorder, the following might help:

Behavioural problems and conduct disorders – a guide for parents from the Royal College of Psychiatrists