Young children are known for being irrational and unpredictable at times. A temper tantrum in the grocery store because a child wants candy is not unheard of in four and five-year-olds. Parents often wonder, however, how they can tell if their child is just pushing their limits or is really showing signs of a serious behavioral problem. While it can be hard to distinguish between bad behavior and a behavioral disorder, there are some clues that parents can use.
While average children will resist instruction from a parent, if the parent is persistent, the child will eventually allow themselves to be led to an activity. A child with a behavioral disorder will defy a persistent parent's requests continuously and begin to have a 'meltdown' if the parent does not give in.
Almost all young children throw temper tantrums when they are very frustrated. They may even hit, kick, or bite a parent or other authority figure impulsively. However, most children will calm down within a few minutes and can be redirected to an unrelated activity. A child with a behavioral disorder who is frustrated or disappointed will often be physically aggressive towards adults when upset, and becomes inconsolable for 20 minutes or more, often several times a day.
Four and five-year-olds are often entering the stages where they can begin to show empathy. Some children develop this late than others. Not being able to understand the feelings of others, physical aggression without remorse, and bullying are signs to watch for if a parent is worried about a behavioral disorder.
Lastly, the average child may accidentally harm an animal while playing. A child with a behavioral disorder may often be cruel to animals, causing harm intentionally.
While any of these signs can worry a parent, one or two that occur infrequently may just be a signal to watch, not a cue to call a mental health professional. However, if a child begins showing more than one or two of these symptoms, and they become more frequent, a call to a mental health professional is in order.
Do you want to learn exactly how to eliminate your child's out-of-control and defiant behavior without using Punishments, Time-Outs, Behavioral Plans, or Rewards?Parents Ask - Should My 4-5 Year Old See a Mental Health Professional?