Headstart for Life

What We Know About Behavioural Disorders Among Children

A behaviour of a child or an adult can be influenced by the context of the environment they are placed in. Problem behaviours can be a consequence of being faced with a challenging or unpleasant environment. Likewise, good behaviours are a result of a nurturing and embracing environment.

On a different perspective, let us look at behaviours as a result of the intrinsic nature of a child. The different manifestations, causes and possible treatments for the problem behaviours will be discussed.

Extensive research conducted on problem behaviours with long term observations have suggested that a child may be exhibiting problem behaviour due to the biological make up. That is, it may be genetic or due to differences in the neurological processing of the brain, that causes the non-conformity to social rules.

“Normal” misbehaviour


From birth, a baby learns that by crying, it will get the attention he/she needs from parents. Whether to be fed, changed or to be held. As the child grows and observes the environment, he/she learns that throwing a tantrum, screaming, biting or resisting is the quickest way for instant gratification. These are examples of learnt behaviour, which may develop into bigger issues if not addressed promptly.

Externalising behaviours


Externalising behaviours or behavioural disorders can be considered when the following red flags occur for a prolonged period of time (more than 6 months consistently), prevalent in at least 2 of the 3 settings –  home, school or social setting.

  1. Frequent mood swings
  2. Difficulty sleeping
  3. Self-injury
  4. Harming/ bullying other children
  5. Poor attention to tasks
  6. Low energy
  7. Performing poorly in school
  8. Non-compliance to authority
  9. Feeding issues

Behavioural disorders

The above red flags are indication of the risks that a child may develop behavioural or emotional difficulties. Hence, it is also crucial to be aware of the various classifications of behavioural disorders and their characteristics. This would enable parents to take note of the signs and symptoms and subsequently approach the relevant professional for advice and possible treatment.

Some of the common behavioural disorders include but are not limited to:

  1. Attention Deficit/Hyperactive Disorder (AD/HD)
  2. Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)
  3. Conduct Disorder (CD)

Attention Deficit/Hyperactive Disorder (AD/HD)


The common traits of children with AD/HD are:

  • Inattention
  • Impulsivity
  • Hyperactivity

While there can a combination of hyperactivity and impulsivity, a child may be purely having attention issues minus the hyperactivity. ADHD is more common in boys than girls. However, most girls present the symptoms of ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) which is often overlooked as the girls are not being disruptive but just seem to be lost in their world.

Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD)


The common traits of children with ODD are:

  • Hostility towards parents, siblings, and society
  • Uncooperative
  • Irritable
  • Temperamental
  • Mostly directed toward those imposing authority on them
  • They have difficulty getting along with family members, classmates and playmates due to their negative thinking and demeanour

ODD is not as serious as Conduct Disorder as they do not violate the basic rights of others.

Conduct Disorder (CD)


ODD if left untreated may eventually transit into Conduct Disorder which is more severe than ODD and it can be classified as a psychiatric disorder where professional help is vital. This disorder can cause harm to others such that it can violate the rights of others.

The common traits of children with CD are:

  • Aggressive
  • Damage or destroy property
  • Steal/ Shoplift/ trespass
  • Often lie or cheat
  • Skip school
  • Unable to understand another person’s perspective
  • Anxious about the intention of others
  • Poor language skills causes inability to express themselves with words and therefore use negative actions
  • Unable to maintain a healthy relationship therefore have few or no friends.

Escalating causes

Although the disorder maybe intrinsic in nature, the degree of manifestation is also influenced by the following factors:

  • Parental
  • Family
  • Society

A parent who is under depression or influence of drugs/ substance abuse can play a major role in the behaviour of their child. Inadequate nurturing or supervision, rejection of child from birth, harsh parenting practices can also be causing the symptoms of ODD and CD.

Most often, such behavioural disorder can exist together with other conditions such as Autism and AD/HD or AD/HD and ODD hence causing even greater challenges for the child.

Seeking help

A child presenting with problem behaviours  can be managed and helped by providing adequate care and proper attention by parents. However, when such remediation are not enough and the behaviours still persist, parents should make the call to seek professional help.

For the above conditions, there are various therapies available to help the child as well as the parents. Below are some of the therapies that can be considered.

  • Cognitive Behaviour Therapy
  • Social Skills Training
  • Family Therapy
  • Parent training

The advent of technology has allowed us access to seek information regarding many issues that we are unaware of or have limited knowledge.  As such, we should exercise discretion when reading such materials and the relevancy of it to the child. It is advised that any issues faced with the child that seems to relate to the information gained, should always be consulted with the corresponding professional first before assuming and seeking treatment.



Centre for community child health(2006). Behaviour Problems (Practice Resource).


Children’s Mental Health Ontario(2016).Mental Health Disorders in Children and Youth.


"All the information on this site is for educational purposes only and does not replace the assessment and intervention of a registered speech-language pathologist, occupational therapist or any other medical or education professional."

About Usha

Usha has been working with children with special needs for 3 years. She has great passion in integrating children with special needs into the community. In her free time, she likes to cycle along the coasts of Singapore exploring nature.

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