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Behavioral illnesses of childhood

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What is a behavioral illness?

It is normal for your child or teen to sometimes misbehave, not listen, talk back, or act rebellious. These behaviors are part of the normal process of growing up. However, some children and teens start to show more difficult, dangerous, or disruptive behaviors that don’t get better or go away with time. These behaviors can affect their home life, school performance, friendships, and safety. They can cause problems for youth as they grow into adults.

Types of Behavioral Illnesses

The three most common types of behavior illnesses are attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), and conduct disorder (CD). Other behavioral disorders include temper tantrums, and self-harming behaviors, such as cutting one’s own body.

Symptoms of a behavioral illness

Some of the signs of childhood behavioral illnesses may be:

  • Problems paying attention or completing daily tasks
  • Irritable mood, argumentative most of the time
  • Breaks rules without a known reason
  • Difficulty slowing down, no “off” button (hyperactive)
  • Acts without thinking (impulsive)
  • Acting out, fighting, bullying, cruel behavior towards people or animals (aggressive)
  • Self-harming (cutting, burning)
  • Not interacting socially with others (withdrawal)
  • Skipping school
  • Excessive or inappropriate crying, poor coping skills
  • Temper tantrums
  • Learning difficulties (performing below grade level)
  • Alcohol or drug use (with other signs above)

Causes and treatment of a behavioral illness

No one knows exactly what causes behavioral disorders in children and teens. It is likely that a number of factors, such as genetics, diet, stress, overall health, and family functioning play a role. There is no “one” cause and there is no “one” treatment for a behavioral disorder. A mental health provider can help properly diagnose and treat a behavioral disorder. Treatment may include talk therapy, medications, coordination with school, and connecting with community resources. 

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