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Recognizing the Causes of Your Child’s Disruptive Behavior

Anxiety, which is the most common mental health disorder among young people, affects one in eight children and more than 30% of adolescents in the United States.

Yet the condition can reveal itself in dramatically different ways. Some kids may withdraw from friendships, be more clingy to parents, and even seem depressed. Others can react with an overwhelming need to break out of their situation by acting out violently. 

When a child has a tantrum, it’s easy to believe that their actions come from a place of anger. But it’s quite likely this explosive behavior is a symptom of  anxiety. More often than not, parents and teachers don’t recognize the underlying cause. And so ,the behavior persists. 

In this discussion, we take a closer look at disruptive behavior

What makes a child disruptive? Oftentimes, a child — especially those who are younger — can’t find the words to express their feelings. Others think that nobody is listening to them. So to “be heard,” they act out with temper tantrums or violent disruptions. 

It is quite common for children with undiagnosed anxiety to be disruptive while at school. Here, demands and expectations on them are higher than ever. And they can’t handle the pressure. So they explode. Episodes such as this are not only alarming to the students, they can be very confusing to teachers and other staff members as well — especially if the actions come out of nowhere, and don’t align with the typical personality of the child. 

To make matters worse, children who are suffering from anxiety often push away these same teachers who can offer them security and, to a degree, relief. But because the underlying cause of the behavior has gone unrecognized, the children end up getting punished instead of learning coping mechanisms to manage their anxiety.

When teachers and parents understand that anxiety is the cause of these outbursts, they can join forces with the child and the school counselor to come up with strategies to help him handle it more effectively. What’s more, they are able to show the child he or she is not alone. Sharing information and problem-solving is important in your efforts to put together a comprehensive plan to support your child.

At home and at school, here are some quick tips to help your child cope.

Adjust the environment.
When your child is doing homework, remove distractions like video screens, and be sure to schedule breaks.

Make expectations clear. You’ll get better cooperation if you tell your child in very clear terms what you are expecting. 

Give them choices. Providing options is a good way to set up structure while giving your child a sense of empowerment. 

Encourage positive behaviors. Praise them when they do something right. Reward them – don’t bribe them – for acting appropriately. Rewards could be as simple as giving them some “screen time” or offering a snack.

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