A child who is defiant, impulsive or aggressive towards you or other authority figures, engages in antisocial acts, or exhibits other conduct problems, presents a serious challenge to maintaining a happy and harmonious family life.
Unaddressed childhood conduct problems are also the most reliable predictor of mental health problems in adulthood.
Conduct problems in children exist along a spectrum from behaviours that are mild in severity, through to those which are very disruptive, aggressive and antisocial.
Children displaying behaviours at the more extreme end of this scale may be diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Conduct Disorder or Intermittent Explosive Disorder. These types of behavioural disorders can result when children have problems regulating and managing their emotions and behaviour. They are characterised by “externalising” behaviours or “acting out”.
Conduct problems differ from the challenging behaviours of children with ADHD, which are primarily caused by the child’s difficulty in maintaining attention, and being excessively active and fidgety. While impulsivity is a feature of childhood that tends to diminish with age, it is more extreme than usual in all of the conditions outlined above.
What Causes Conduct Problems in Children?
There are a range of factors that contribute to the development of these types of problem behaviours, and some of these – such as genetics, our family background, and our child’s temperament – are outside of our ability to change.
Our parenting contributes to our children’s behaviour, and is often the focus of interventions addressing conduct problems. However, it is also important to note that our children’s behaviour also influences how we parent. Specifically, challenging behaviours can lead us to parent in ways that are not as effective.
All parents want their children to be happy and healthy. However, most of us don’t get formal training in parenting; our parenting techniques, both good and not-so-good are often built through our own experiences as children and how we have observed others parent.
Through these experiences and observations many of us can identify types of parenting strategies that we don’t want to use, but we are often left without effective strategies to replace them with. Also some of the strategies we use that seem to work in the moment can actually serve to maintain, rather than eliminate, our child’s less-desirable behaviour.
As a result, parenting can be really hard, relentless and draining, even without kids who are impulsive, emotional or disruptive.
Although our children’s temperaments shape how they engage with their worlds, as parents, we have the ability to teach our kids how to identify their emotions and manage them in appropriate ways. We can help provide our children with positive ways of engaging with us and getting our attention, and in making them feel important, connected and secure. As parents, we can work on addressing our own issues and be more resilient in the face of family challenges.
How can a psychologist help?
It is not possible to be a perfect parent, and nor is perfection required to achieve emotionally healthy and secure kids. A range of evidence-based treatments exist for addressing conduct problems in children, and can be tailored to address your specific challenges.
- help you learn new skills (including effective discipline techniques) that can shape your children’s behaviours through changing your own – either as a single parent or as a parenting team;
- help you cope when you are feeling overwhelmed by the challenges of parenting, or your child’s disruptive behaviour;
- assist you in addressing your own issues that may be limiting your resilience; and
- help you teach your children to better manage their emotions.
Parenting interventions are usually the most effective way of addressing these behaviours, particularly with younger children and teens. In some instances it may be useful for your child to also undergo counselling to help them work on their behaviours, or to address underlying mental health issues.
It may also be helpful for the entire family to do some work together; a thorough initial assessment can help to identify which of these is likely to work best for you and your family.
If you think that you may benefit from the support of a psychologist in managing your child’s conduct, please make an appointment with me soon.
Author: Kelly Gall, BSc (Hons), M Psych (Health), M Clin Psych, MAPS, MCHP.
Kelly Gall is a Health Psychologist and Clinical Psychologist, who is passionate about helping her clients to become healthy inside and out. Kelly develops tailored, holistic and evidence-based treatment plans that incorporate psychological, physical and social strategies aimed at empowering her clients to achieve relief from psychological symptoms and improve their health and effectiveness. Find out more on her website, Healthy Inside and Out.
To make an appointment with Health Psychologist/Clinical Psychologist Kelly Gall, please call (07) 3067 9129 or you can book online today.
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- Mash, E.J. & Barkley, R.A. (2014) Child psychopathology. New York: Guilford Press.