Look for these patterns to know when to get help.
Story: Dr. Scott Sells
Have you ever wondered if a child or teenager you know is capable of extreme violence? Or questioned how seriously to take a child’s behavior and when to reach out for help?
In the midst of the worst year ever for school shootings, it’s important we all know the signs and symptoms of behavior that is out of control and in need of professional attention.
When a child doesn’t follow rules or requests from parents and adults on a consistent basis for an elongated amount of time, it could be oppositional behavior. While all children can be oppositional at times, such as when they refuse a parental request, oppositional behavior is more than stubbornness. The oppositional child will not back down despite the consequences. A stubborn child is likely to back down when the consequences become detrimental to him or her, while an oppositional child won’t.
2. Trouble relating to others
Out-of-control children have problems with social skills. It’s hard for them to make friends. They don’t relate well to peers and other people and often isolate themselves.
3. Physical aggression
They are physically aggressive to parents or peers. They bully and intimidate to get their way. As their interactional problems increase, they start fights and become even more aggressive.
They are disobedient by lying, stealing, leaving the house without permission, and so on.
5. Acts of terrorism
This means the child uses aggression, defiance, and opposition to control the mood of the household and to maintain themselves in a position of authority over others. Parents back down due to fear of what the child will do.
6. Problems in school
Out-of-control kids do not respect authority. They have problems in school and can be put in a special program such as special education or alternative school.
7. Frequent trouble with the law
They frequently get in trouble with the law and other institutions because of their disregard for the property of others.
8. Extreme entitlement
They don’t accept responsibility for their actions and they believe they deserve respect, preferential treatment, and privileges without having to earn them.
9. Limited empathy or remorse
They have limited empathy, remorse, or guilt when they hurt others, either emotionally or physically.
10. Behaviors last at least one year
The time aspect is important because many children exhibit difficult behaviors at times during childhood. What differentiates a child with severe conduct problems is a repeated pattern of behaviors lasting at least one year.
As parents, we often see these behaviors starting around age 3. We do not realize it’s a problem until the early teens, after the whole family has been maneuvering around the child’s behaviors for years. At that point, it is a wake-up call for parents, but it can be a hopeful reality check.
If someone you know exhibits these behaviors, seek professional assistance from a mental health practitioner as soon as possible. With help, it is possible to learn tools and strategies to appropriately address these behaviors to keep the child, and possibly others, from getting hurt.
About the writer
Scott Sells holds a Ph.D. in both marriage and family therapy and social work from Florida State University. His books include: “Treating the Traumatized Child: A Step-by-Step Family Systems Approach,” “Treating the Tough Adolescent: A Family-Based, Step-by-Step Guide,” and “Parenting Your Out-of-Control Teenager: 7 Steps to Reestablish Authority and Reclaim Love.”