Childhood Problems

The Most Common Behavior Disorders in Children

Raising children is difficult, and raising difficult children can be life disrupting. But being able to tell whether your child is just going through a stage, or if something is really wrong isn’t always that easy.

A tantrum doesn’t automatically mean your 2-year-old has a problem with authority, and a kindergartner who doesn’t want to sit still doesn’t necessarily have an attention disorder. When it comes to understanding our children’s behavior, experts say diagnoses and labels should be kept to a minimum.

Early Childhood Behavioral and Emotional Disorders

Rarely will a child under 5 years old receive a diagnosis of a serious behavioral disorder. However, they may begin displaying symptoms of a disorder that could be diagnosed later in childhood. These may include:

  • attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)
  • autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
  • anxiety disorder
  • depression
  • bipolar disorder
  • learning disorders
  • conduct disorders

Many of these you’ve likely heard of. Others are more rare or aren’t often used outside of discussions about childhood psychology.

ODD, for instance, includes angry outbursts, typically directed at people in authority. But a diagnosis is dependent on the behaviors lasting continuously for more than six months and disrupting a child’s functioning. Conduct disorder is a far more serious diagnosis and involves behavior one would consider cruel, to both other people as well as to animals. This can include physical violence and even criminal activity — behaviors that are very uncommon in preschool-age children.

Autism, meanwhile, is actually a broad range of disorders that can affect children in a variety of ways, including behaviorally, socially, and cognitively. They are considered a neurological disorder and, unlike other behavioral disorders, the symptoms may begin as early as infanthood. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about one in 68 children are diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.