What Are Child Behavior Problems?

Child behavior problems are disruptive and hard to deal with. Discover what types of behavior make up problem behavior and what to do about it, on HealthyPlace.

Child behavior problems are actions, often driven by emotions, a child does when upset. Problems can also encompass misbehavior that isn’t tied to emotional distress, such as bullying, lying, or disobeying. Knowing the definition of child behavior problems can help you understand and help your child.

To be considered “bad,” behavior must be outside of what is considered socially and culturally appropriate. Also, it’s crucial to look at a child’s behavior in the context of their age and developmental level. Tantrums in a toddler or preschooler are normal—frustrating, yes, but not a behavior issue. On the other hand, tantrums in a teenager are indeed troublesome. Child behavior problems, then, are actions that don’t fit typical behavior in the context of the child’s situation.

Child Behavior Problems vs Behavior Disorders

Parents often wonder, when they’re exasperated by their misbehaving child, exactly what behavior problems are. Then comes the million-dollar question: “Does my kid have a behavior disorder?” Problems and disorders are two very different experiences. Knowing the difference will help you know what you can do to help your child, yourself, and your whole family.  

Behavior disorders are diagnoseable illnesses. Their symptoms are intense, and they’re life-disruptive to the child and others. To be considered a disorder, the behaviors must be consistent and last for a specific amount of time. The length varies depending on the disorder, but a typical duration is six months of living with the symptoms before a diagnosis is made.
This list shows some of the more common behavior disorders. Some, such as ADHD or learning disorders, aren’t classified as behavior disorders, but they do cause disruptive behavior.

These disorders involve extreme and negative behaviors. They are much more than behavior problems. That said, parents dealing with their child’s behavior problems know all too well that they don’t need a diagnosable disorder to cause hardship in the home. A look into a definition of behavioral problems will clarify what is going on when kids chronically misbehave.

Children’s behavior is problematic when it’s disruptive. When kids regularly do things that don’t match the expectations of their family or school, their behavior is a problem. Types of behavior problems involve such things as:

  • Impulsivity
  • Disrespectful behavior (mocking, name-calling, etc.)
  • Whining
  • Tantrums beyond the preschool years
  • Defiance
  • Aggression
  • Lying
  • Emotional outbursts/meltdowns

When kids have behavior problems, their actions are bothersome and difficult. However, unlike behavior disorders, behavior problems are temporary and will pass as they grow and develop. (For parents, teachers, and peers, though, the behavior does seem to drag on.). If they’re temporary, does that mean that parents should let them slide until their child outgrows them?

Child Behavior Problems and Solutions

While behavior problems are temporary and not part of who a child is, it’s important for parents to address them. Otherwise, they worsen. The behaviors can become a habit and much harder to deal with. Trying to break a child of their bad behavior habit often leads to power struggles and clashes.

Dealing with your kids when they begin to exhibit problem behavior is effective in stopping it. Establish clear rules and consequences, and stick to them consistently.

Approach your child with empathy, and seek to understand what’s driving their behavior. Uncovering the root helps you address the core of the behavior rather than just the actions. Adopt a cooperative attitude, which will communicate that you’re on your child’s side. Remaining calm even during an episode of the problem behavior will help reduce it because your child can’t manipulate you into giving them what they want.

Sometimes, a child’s problem behavior spirals out of control. It may or may not be developing into a behavior disorder. If your child’s actions begin to seriously disrupt family life, negatively affect their learning, or become violent, taking your child to see a pediatrician, child psychiatrist, or psychologist for evaluation will be helpful.  

Child behavior problems are difficult, but they don’t have to remain in control permanently. Remember that the behavior, not your child, is the problem to be fixed.

article references

APA Reference
Peterson, T. (2022, January 11). What Are Child Behavior Problems?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 16 from

Last Updated: January 17, 2022

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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