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Experts examine how to spot a 'problem child'

Posted: 3:47 PM, Sep 18, 2018
Updated: 2018-09-20 12:29:45-04

TULSA - Mental health professionals are taking an in-depth look at why children and misbehave and how caregivers can spot a ‘problem child.’

It's in a child's nature to act out whether it be to get attention or get a reaction. But, at what point does bad behavior become a more serious problem?

OSU Assistant Clinical Professor Dr. Sara Coffey said, "I think, often times, bad behavior is a disruption in the child's life, whether that be in school or at home or with peers. So, in some area of their life, they are not able to get along with how things are going and what is expected of them."

Dr. Coffey says each child is different and it is important to understand what leads up to certain behaviors, adding, "Often times, we talk about A. B. C.: the antecedent (what happened before), the behavior (what happened) and then the consequence."

But do kids think about the consequences of their actions? Coffey said, "There are some kids that might notice that the consequence is something that they want, so it might become more habitual."
"I think it's important for us to understand the behavior has meanings. As adults, it's our job to really figure that out because kids are trying to learn from us what's going on."

Children are also trying to push boundaries and figure out how much they can get away with, but Dr. Coffey says there comes a point where it goes from a child just acting out to there being a deeper-rooted issue.

She said, "I think when it does become persistent, in spite of multiple interventions and talking with kids and when it's disrupting their ability to learn, disrupting their ability to engage with peers or with other people, then it's important for parents and caregivers to make sure that they're seeking out support."

The red flags aren't always obvious: physical violence or thoughts of suicide or substance abuse in adolescents. Sometimes, caregivers should be aware of small things: a decline in school performance, not getting along with peers or refusing to go to school.

Coffey explained, "Every once in a while, we might have a bad day and not want to go to work or go to school, but if a kid is consistently not wanting to go to school, having a lot of stomach aches or headaches that aren't explained by other physical ailments, I'd be concerned about an emotional health diagnosis."

Dr. Coffey says if parents see tendencies like this, the first step is to talk to your pediatrician or primary care doctor. However, she says the best course of action is conversation. "It's important for us to start at an early age and talk about feelings of anger or hurt or sadness and making sure that caregivers are an open source of communication with kids."

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