Disruptive Behavior and Aggression
It is common for children to exhibit strong emotions, and even sometimes disruptive behaviors, as part of normal development. Among young children, temper tantrums and outbursts are usually considered to be normal. However, if these behaviors are severe, frequent, or last beyond a certain age (such as tantrums beyond early childhood) there may be an underlying emotional problem.
When to Seek Help:
- Tantrums and rages that are frequent or intense.
- Bullying or threatening others.
- Hurting peers or family members.
- Behavior leads to conduct problems in school.
- Frequent hostile behavior that interferes with relationships and normal activities, Reckless behavior affecting self and others
Sometimes these symptoms are caused by an underlying medical condition. Examples include Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), mood disorders, anxiety, developmental disorders, or substance use. They can also be caused by exposure to scary experiences or trauma, including fighting and verbal conflicts.
A Healthcare Professional May Take the Following Steps Upon Evaluation:
- Determine if a child’s behavior is within the normal age range.
- Make a referral to a mental health practitioner for non-medication treatment, if appropriate.
- Start a medication to treat underlying health problems, if appropriate.
- Check symptoms over time to see if they improve or worsen.
- Ensure that there are no safety concerns.
- Monitor any medication side effects.
Tips to Prevent and Manage Symptoms:
Certain healthy lifestyle changes may reduce challenging and disruptive behaviors in children. Examples include:
- Engagement in regular physical activity, including aerobic and vigorous exercise.
- Eating a healthful diet centered around fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes (for example, beans, peas, and lentils), lean protein sources, nuts, and seeds.
- Ensuring the recommended amount of sleep each night based on age.
- Strengthening relationships with family members.
- Working on resilience and positive parenting skills to support healthy development.
- American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry: Temper Tantrums
- American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry: Oppositional Defiant Disorder
- American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry: Violent Behavior in Children and Adolescents
- HealthyChildren.org: Disruptive Behavior Disorders
- Oppositional Defiant Disorder (aacap.org)
- Conduct Disorder (aacap.org)
- Violent Behavior in Children and Adolescents (aacap.org)
- ODD Resource Center - ODD Guide (aacap.org - PDF)