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Challenging behaviors may not be intentional
MISSISSIPPI STATE – Parents may think their children intentionally argue with everything they say, but the problem may be more complicated.
Louise Davis, Mississippi State University Extension child and family development specialist, said the problem could be factors beyond the child’s control.
“Most children, like many adults, become more irritable and difficult to deal with when they are tired or hungry,” she said. “So one of the first steps to addressing behavior issues is to follow a schedule to make sure children are getting plenty of rest and regular, healthy meals.”
Davis said children may not understand the adults around them.
“If children are not following directions, parents may need to explain the expected behavior or task more clearly,” she said.
In some extreme cases, child behavior experts are diagnosing Oppositional Defiant Disorder, or ODD. This behavioral disorder is in a similar category as Attention Deficit Disorder, or ADD, and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD.
“All children argue with adults and other children from time to time,” Davis said. “ODD may be a factor when oppositional behaviors are frequent, stand out when compared to other children or interfere with family, social and academic activities.”
Davis said some of these negative behaviors increase when children are tired, hungry, stressed or upset. Symptoms include arguing with adults, throwing temper tantrums, questioning rules, using mean and hateful words, blaming others for personal failures, becoming overly sensitive or annoyed, acting revengeful, intentionally upsetting others and showing frequent anger and resentment.
“Several factors may trigger ODD behaviors. Children with these symptoms need a comprehensive evaluation from someone trained to diagnose psychological disorders,” Davis said.
Pam Mottley, a private consultant for children’s social and emotional well-being, said labels, such as ODD, may reflect adults’ frustrations with certain behaviors.
“Talk therapy does not usually work with children struggling to control themselves. Activities can help them redirect their energies in another way,” Mottley said. “Adults may not be able to change the child, but they can change their approach to the child.”
Mottley said adults should consider whether their expectations are reasonable for the developmental age of the child. Behavioral changes take time, and immediate results should not be expected.
“If the same method of guidance or message is producing the same negative results, then adults need to change what they are doing or saying to improve the outcome,” she said.
As a consultant, Mottley uses play-based activities that can help adults teach children how to control themselves and simply be still.
“Some children may not know what it feels like to stop. We should not take it for granted that they can just do it,” she said.
Davis said adults may want to consult counselors specializing in child behavior to make sure they are communicating as effectively as possible.