What counts as severe behaviour in children?

What counts as severe behaviour in children?

All children have behavioural issues from time to time but as a parent, it can be difficult to know what’s normal and what is an indicator that your child needs additional support to regulate their emotions.

You may be watching your child react to certain situations and wondering if all parents have the same difficulties. It could be that someone has suggested to you that your child is ‘neurodivergent’ or ‘on the spectrum’ and you’re not sure what this means. 

We prefer the term neurodivergent and it generally means that a child doesn’t think and react in the same way as the majority of their peers. 

Take a look at what counts as ‘extreme behaviour’ in children. This will help you identify if it’s time to take the next steps and get support to help your child cope better with the world around them. 

Severe behaviour in children

Neurodivergent children or those with autism-specific behaviours usually experience the world differently from most of their peers. They can be impacted by stimuli that other children can ignore or ignore stimuli that they are expected to respond to. 

For a child who has these challenges, changes in the way they see the world or in how they want and expect the world to be can often cause extreme behaviour.

  • Extended tantrums: Most small children have tantrums when they don’t get their way. For a child with autism-specific behaviours, these tantrums can be extended and extreme. They can be triggered by disappointment, failure to get their way, a breakdown in routine, an unfamiliar environment or any number of unpredictable issues. An autism-specific tantrum is likely to include aggressive behaviour such as biting and kicking and can be extremely difficult to put an end to. Tantrums that occur nearly every day may be an indicator of a neurodivergent child.
  • Violent outbursts: Although violence can manifest as part of a tantrum, in children with autism-specific behaviours violent or aggressive outbursts can happen suddenly and be extreme. These children are highly sensitive as well as being more likely to ignore or not understand social norms. This means that if they are triggered, by another child taking a favourite toy for example, they may strike out. To a neurodivergent child, having a toy taken away is an intolerable break in their expectations. When paired with different understanding of social norms, this can often result in aggressive retaliation. While this behaviour doesn’t have to be tolerated, it is important to understand that the child with autism-specific behaviours is usually unaware that what they are doing is wrong.
  • Ignoring: Neurodivergent children and those with autism-specific behaviours often live in their own world. Their inability to understand social norms means that they don’t understand why they should listen to you, or anyone else if they don’t want to. They will often flat out ignore a caregiver who is trying to get them to switch behaviours or move on to a new activity. They simply don’t see it as important to listen.
  • Rocking or repetition: Children with more severe behaviours may manifest repetitive movements or phrases. One of the most common forms is rocking back and forth but more harmful instances like hitting themselves or banging their heads against a wall do also occur. These are often triggered by some form of discomfort and can be hard to break a child out of.
  • Social ignorance: A lack of social awareness can result in children acting in ways outside of what is socially acceptable. This can be something as simple as talking too loudly or taking off clothes in public. While socially acceptable behaviour needs to be taught to all children, some kids require extra support to understand how they are expected to act when around others. 

If your child has a tendency to display all or some of these behaviours, it can be exhausting for everyone. The child can become confused and distressed, and parents can feel hopeless and overwhelmed. It can cause a strain on family relationships and be a major emotional drain.

If you are struggling with extreme behaviour, first of all, it is not because you have failed as a parent. No matter how often you might hear, “all children are like that sometimes”, what you are dealing with is more severe and much more difficult. Yelling or punishing your child is unlikely to make a difference. 

As much as you love your child, no parent can handle extreme behaviours without some form of support. Fortunately, help is available.  

Your first port of call is to your GP, who can talk with you about your child’s behaviour and refer you to a specialist who can confirm a diagnosis. From there, you may also be able to access NDIS funding to cover the cost of a behavioural therapist, occupational therapist or respite carer. Once you have the right diagnosis, you can go from trying to stop extreme behaviour to understanding why it happens and learning how to manage it. The result is a happier child and a more relaxed family. 

If you feel your child is exhibiting extreme behaviours and requires support, contact Phoenix Hub to arrange an assessment with a behavioural expert.