We like to think of childhood as a time relatively free of worry and psychological problems. Just as adults, children too suffer from psychological problems. These may be ranging from simple behavioural, emotional, or learning problems to complex psychological problems.
“Walking through the grocery store, you suddenly hear a child screaming. You look around and see that it is a toddler throwing a temper tantrum because her mother will not give her candy”.
Temper tantrums, periods of fearfulness and shyness are common in children. It is not unusual for children to struggle with emotions and to misbehave in ways that can be as serious as lying or stealing.
Even when children experience significant stressors such as poverty or a parent’s death etc., many remain psychologically healthy. Such children are called “Resilient” because they keep a positive sense of themselves and develop their talents.
How can we tell when a child’s behaviour or cognitive or emotional difficulty crosses the line into abnormality?
It is important to understand when children’s behaviours cross the line from normal difficulties of childhood into abnormal problems that warrant concern. It is also essential to identify how children’s levels of cognitive, emotional, and social development can affect the symptoms shown. Prompt diagnosis and appropriate action increases the likelihood of effective management of these problems and facilitates children to live their lives without breakdowns.
A major focus of socialization is helping children learn to pay attention, control their impulses, and organize their behaviors so that they can accomplish long-term goals. All young children can be naughty, defiant, and impulsive from time to time, which is perfectly normal. However, some children have extremely difficult and challenging behaviours that are outside the norms for their age group.
Analysing Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)– Most elementary school-age children can sit quietly for some period and engage in games that require patience and concentration. They can control their impulses to jump up in class or walk into traffic. However, some children cannot. Their behaviour is marked by symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity that is demonstrated from the following behavioural characteristics:
# Often gets distracted easily and has trouble keeping attention on school tasks or play activities.
# Makes careless mistakes in schoolwork, does not follow instructions, and fails to complete schoolwork or other activities.
# Time and again fidgets with hands or feet or squirms in seat and gets up from seat when remaining in seat is expected during class.
# Runs about or climbs when and where it is not appropriate.
# Often has trouble playing with other children.
# Interrupts or intrudes on other children and extremely talkative.
To synopsize, children with ADHD often do poorly in school. Since they cannot pay attention or calm their hyperactivity, they do not gain the required knowledge and perform below their intellectual capabilities. Children with ADHD may have poor relationships with other children and, often are not popular with other children. When interacting with peers, children with ADHD may be intrusive, irritable, and demanding. They want to play by their own rules and have an explosive temper, so when things do not go their way, they may even get physically aggressive.
Biological factors that have been implicated in the development of ADHD include genetics, exposure to toxins prenatally and early in childhood, and abnormalities in neurological functioning.
In addition, psychological and social factors such as complicated family environment, negative parenting, family disharmony, divorce, peer discrimination etc. are also associated with ADHD.
Treatment for ADHD involves Behaviour Therapy that is designed to decrease children’s impulsivity and hyperactivity and help them control aggression which is highly effective in reducing symptoms of ADHD in children.
Behavioural therapies for ADHD focus on reinforcing attentive, goal-directed, and prosocial behaviour and extinguishing impulsive and hyperactive behaviour. These therapies typically engage parents and teachers in changing rewards and punishments in every aspect of the child’s life. For example, a child and his/her parents might agree that he/she will earn a chip every time he/she obeys a request to put away the toys. At the end of each week, the reward can be changed, and he/she can exchange chips for fun activities. Each time the child refuses to comply, he/she loses the reward. Such techniques can help parents break the cycle of arguments with their children that escalate behaviours, which in turn lead to more arguments and perhaps physical violence. Children learn to anticipate the consequences of their behaviour and to make less impulsive choices. They are taught to interact more appropriately with others, including waiting for their turn in games, finding nonaggressive ways to express frustration and listening when others speak.