child throwing tantrum

Child Behavior Problems & Solutions: What Is Common & What Is Not?

As children grow and develop, they all go through stages that include unpredictable behaviors like tantrums and even aggressiveness. Parents are sometimes surprised by a sudden outburst from their usually placid child. The key is knowing which behavioral displays are common and transitory, and which ones are signaling that your child may need support.

In this post, we outline the most common behaviors all children exhibit and suggest ways how you as a parent or caregiver can cope. We also explain behaviors that are beyond the normal scope and suggest ways of dealing with them.

crying sibling

1) Tantrums and crying jags.

Every child has occasional outbursts of emotion when they don’t get their way. For example: let’s say your preschooler wants to stay up late to watch a movie with their siblings, but you veto it because it would keep them up too far past their usual bedtime. Depending on your child’s age, this might prompt a tantrum claiming “I never get to do anything!”, or words to that effect. Such overwrought reactions are common and have no cause for concern. They are simply testing their boundaries with the adults in their lives. Try to not overreact and make the situation escalate. Keeping calm is the best way to deal with an outburst like this, no matter what prompts it.

2) One moment they are babyish, the next they act grown up.

This vacillation between needing parents to treat them like the baby they once were and insisting they are capable of independence is completely normal. In fact, this bouncing back and forth can last past the tween years. As children get older, they sometimes need to return to their parents’ safety net, which is normal and has no cause for alarm. They will reach independence soon enough.

girl using blocks

3) Occasional aggression and shouting.

Many parents feel mortified when they arrive to pick their child up from a friend’s house, for example, and learn they hit another child or yanked a toy away from them. While it’s upsetting to think of your child acting poorly in a social setting, try not to overreact. Young children take time to learn social skills like sharing. Explain that certain behaviors (like hitting) are unacceptable and that they must use their words, not physicality, to ask for something they want. Try to use the instance as a teaching moment. However, if your child continues to behave aggressively toward other children, you need a bigger solution that may involve therapy.

4) Poor impulse control is common.

Learning to regulate their desires – for a snack, for a new toy, whatever it may be – takes time. A child learning to cope with complex emotions needs a patient caregiver. After all, no one can expect them to understand immediately why instantaneous rewards are not always possible in life. These are complicated lessons to learn, and children need continual reminding and help to understand how vital they are.

child and mom

5) Occasional defiance vs. constant opposition.

As children develop, they begin to see themselves as separate from their parents and begin asserting their individuality. That’s perfectly normal and should be encouraged, as it fosters independence. However, if your child is perpetually defiant, going so far as to shout and hit you, and never obeying rules, you may need the advice of a professional. A therapist may diagnose Oppositional Defiance Disorder (OPD), a condition in which children defy their parents constantly, even when it is detrimental to their well-being; refuse to take responsibility for their actions, and have frequent tantrums. However, don’t panic. Other issues may be at the root of this behavior, such as a reading disorder like dyslexia that makes them dislike school or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. The latter condition leaves children frustrated because they can’t focus, but are unaware that a physical issue may be causing their problems. It is essential that parents understand why the behavior is happening, whether there is a medical issue at the root of it, and how they should proceed to help their child (and family) cope with whatever diagnosis is given.

child coloring with crayons

6) Sudden changes in friends, clothing, and hobbies.

If one day you wake up and hear acid rock pouring from your child’s bedroom stereo instead of the soft folk music they’ve always loved, don’t panic! Tweens, in particular, try on different hats when discovering who they are. An abrupt switch in fashion choices is another example of how they move away from parental control and assert themselves. Try to remember that inside they are still the child you raised, with all the ethics and morality you instilled along the way. Remind yourself how you asserted your own independence from your parents. It is a stage every person goes through – the only difference is how the stage manifests itself. As long as your tween or teen is healthy and mostly happy, not criticizing their choices is the wisest move.

7) Drastic changes to watch for.

Unless your child is behaving in a way that jeopardizes their health and well-being, it’s best not to overreact to temporary phases. But there are signs that signal you need to intervene, such as self harm, a dramatic change in weight (whether it’s losing or gaining), and sudden shifts in mood. If your child seems chronically depressed, for example, pay attention for several days or weeks and do some research. Although no parent wants to call in a psychologist just because their child quit piano lessons, it is equally risky to ignore signs of something deeper going on.

speaking with child

Most children go through many phases and different behaviors as they grow into young adults. For parents, the delicate balancing act is knowing when to be concerned, and when to leave them alone.

Ultimately, what matters most is that parents demonstrate constant love, concern, and care and that your child knows they can always turn to you. Most problematic behaviors are transitory, and one day you will laugh about how worried you became when they shifted their priorities or had a tantrum at a relative’s house. It’s all part of the maturation process, and most children sail through it eventually, in spite of a few road bumps along the way.