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Negative behavior in children
Posted: June 28, 2011
Last Updated: June 28, 2011

Every child reaches those “Terrible Two’s,” when they realize that their wishes are different from those around them. It can be a trying time as parents are called on to deal with tantrums and hurt feelings when children don’t get their way. But for some children, the terrible two’s never end. These children constantly defy authority, display aggressive behavior, and violate social rules.


Children displaying such serious behavior problems can suffer from discipline disorders known as Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) and Conduct Disorder (CD).


Conduct disorder affects over six to 16 percent of boys and six to nine percent of girls. Conduct disorder can have its onset early, before age 10, or in adolescence. Symptoms include aggressive behavior that causes or threatens harm to other people or animals, non-aggressive conduct that causes property loss or damage, deceitfulness or theft, and serious rule violations. Conduct disorder may also be associated with other difficulties such as substance use, risk-taking behavior, school problems, and physical injury from accidents or fights.

Oppositional defiant disorder is characterized by two different sets of problems. These are aggressiveness in a child and a tendency to purposefully bother and irritate others. When ODD is present with attention deficit disorder, depression, tourette's, anxiety disorders, or other neuropsychiatric disorders, it makes life with that child far more difficult. ODD shows a pattern of negativistic, hostile, and defiant behavior lasting at least six months during which four or more of the following are present: often loses temper, argues with adults, actively defies or refuses to comply with adults' requests or rules, deliberately annoys people, blames others for his or her mistakes or misbehavior, is often spiteful and vindictive, is often angry and resentful, is often touchy or easily annoyed by others.

ODD is the most common psychiatric problem in children. Over five percent of children have this disorder. In younger children it is more common in boys than girls, but as they grow older, the rate is the same in males and females.

Like all mental disorders, a professional must diagnose ODD and CD. Research has show that children who receive treatment for these disorders early have a high success rate and can halt future problems. Many children with ODD and CD who do not receive treatment have had criminal problems when they reach adulthood. Treatment can be complex and involved, but is well worth the time.

Jim Chandler, MD, FRCPC, an expert in ODD and CD, gives all parents some tips to help with children’s behavior.

·         Limit television time to one or two hours a day - Television is a major force in our lives. Study after study has shown that television is filled with violence, drug and alcohol use, and sexuality. The average child spends at least two to three hours a day watching; many children spend four to six hours a day watching. Be certain to monitor the programs your children watch and co-view programs so you are aware of what your child is watching.

·         Eliminate or reduce video and computer games- About 33 percent of children play computer or video games. As anyone who has a child knows, these games can be very addictive. One out of five children from fifth to eighth grades are as addicted to computer games as an alcoholic is to alcohol. Monitor the games your child plays and limit them the same way you would television.

·         Make certain your child gets enough sleep – Experts recommend eight to ten hours of sleep a night for adults, children can require more. Many children suffer from sleep deprivation, which can affect mood and energy levels. Make an early bedtime and stick to it.

·         Eat well every day– Many children are exposed to a large amount of caffeine and sugar. This can cause mood swings and affect your child’s attention span and energy levels. Promote eating vegetables and fruit instead of prepackaged snack food which is loaded with sugar and lacks nutrients children’s growing bodies need.

·         Get exercise – Every child needs adequate exercise. Today school physical education classes are being cut, and most children spend less time playing games than children did a decade ago. Enroll your child in a sport or team activities or take them to the park to play. Physical activity is important in everyone’s life.

To learn more about ODD or CD call Border Area Mental Health Services. To reach Border Area Mental Health Services in Grant and Hidalgo Counties, call 388-4412; in Catron County, call 533-6649; in Luna County, call 546-2174.  For CRISIS, call 538-3488 or outside Silver City, call 1-800-426-0997.

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© 2008 by Border Area Mental Health Services and Putting the Web to Work. Front-page photo copyright by Bob Pelham, Pinos Altos Cabins, and used by permission. All rights reserved. For the privacy and comfort of our clients and staff, the photographs used in this site are representative and do not show specific individuals associated with BAMHS.