A parent talking to her child.
Psychotherapy is an effective way to treat behavior disorders in children.

Learning About Child Behavioral Therapy

Child behavioral therapy is a process of identifying the issues that are problematic to the patient and analyzing these current problems for an attempt to omit an undesirable behavior. The basis of this therapy is classical condition theory and operant conditioning theory.

What Are the Different Types of Behavioral Therapy?

In classical conditioning theory, when a person is exposed to a stimulus, they will produce a response. This response is repeated upon experiencing the same situation. The behavioral response is then learned through this process.

While in operant conditioning theory, rewards and punishments are used to determine what is the consequence of a particular behavior.

When Is Child Behavioral Therapy Needed?

In children, behavioral therapy is being recommended as a treatment for ADHD. Children with ADHD face distractions in their environment, making it difficult for them to become attentive. Alongside with inattentiveness, children with ADHD act on impulse. It may lead to caregiver's or educator's frustration.

Those key characteristics of ADHD may contribute to negative behaviors to children, especially when they get punished for misbehaving. Repeated punishments can affect the child's self-image and may lead to more behavioral problems.

These behavioral problems are then seen to be needing modification and this is where behavioral therapies come into place.

Behavioral Issues in Children

It is not uncommon in children to act angry, argue and become aggressive around adults. However, observing the disruptive behaviors should continue to see if they are still natural based on the child's age.

To some children, disruptive behaviors persist over time or are severe in intensity. Let’s take a look at the two types of conduct problems in children.

Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)

At ages two to three, and even up to early adolescence, it is a normal part of development that kids tend to become oppositional around the people they know. They become disobedient and talk back from time to time. This usually happens when they are hungry, tired, stressed and upset.

This pattern of behavior becomes a serious concern when it is frequent and constant. When comparing this child to other children of the same age, they act differently and are very noticeable when part of a group.

The child's behavior of being uncooperative and using hostility toward authority figures may negatively affect the child's day to day functioning.

According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, here are the symptoms of ODD that are usually seen at home or school:

  • Frequent temper tantrums
  • Excessive arguing with adults
  • Often questioning rules
  • Active defiance and refusal to comply with adult requests and rules
  • Deliberate attempts to annoy or upset people
  • Blaming others for their mistakes or misbehavior
  • Often being touchy or easily annoyed by others
  • Frequent anger and resentment
  • Mean and hateful talking when upset
  • Spiteful attitude and revenge-seeking
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Conduct Disorder

Conduct disorder is an umbrella term for a group of behavioral and emotional problems that are persistent in children. The child has difficulty in following the rules and behaves in a socially inacceptable way.

Most of the time, kids who have this type of disorder are viewed to be “bad” or delinquent. Children affected with conduct disorder may show the following:

  • Aggression to people and animals (starts physical fights, bullies or threatens other kids, delights in being mean to others)
  • Destruction of property (setting up a fire with an intention to cause damage, deliberately destroys an object owned by other people)
  • Lying or stealing (lies to obtain goods or favors, shoplifting)
  • Serious violation of rules (stays outdoors despite a parental curfew, runs away from home)

Addressing a Behaviour Disorder Using Child Behavioural Therapy

The child should undergo a comprehensive evaluation by an experienced mental health professional. The thorough assessment will check if there is a presence of other disorders such as ADHD, learning disabilities, mood disorders and anxiety disorders.

For ODD, treatment may include the following:

  • Parent management training to help parents and others manage the child's behavior
  • Individual psychotherapy to develop more effective anger management
  • Family psychotherapy to improve communication and mutual understanding
  • Cognitive problem-solving skills training and therapies to decrease negativity
  • Social skills training to increase flexibility and improve social skills and frustration tolerance with peers

In the case of conduct disorder, treatment can be provided in a variety of settings and it all depends on the severity of the condition. Behavioral therapy and psychotherapy are commonly used to moderate the child's expression of anger. Medication may also be used particularly for children with difficulty paying attention and for those who suffer from depression.

The Effect on Parents

It must be challenging for parents to manage children with disruptive behaviors. The parents will need all the support they can get from family and healthcare professionals.

Since parents play a significant role in behavior therapy, they will need help from experts on how to manage their kid at home and school. There are available home-based treatment programs that can guide both the child and the family.

Approaches to Prevent Disruptive Behaviors

Disruptive behaviors in children develop due to a variety of factors. Biological and social factors may play a role. But the risk increases when the child is exposed to adverse experiences; it could be violence and criminal behavior, as well as maltreatment or disturbing parenting.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has information on its website to learn about public health approaches in preventing the risks. These include: