Children exhibit a wide variety of behavior issues, some of which represent a phase or a stage of emotional development. Others behavior problems, however, stem from deeper issues that have roots in several factors. To properly assess behavioral problems in children, include the people important in the child’s life at home, at school, in extracurricular activities and in any support services. Remember that the first diagnosis serves only as an educated guess as the professionals with whom you consult continue to refine their observations and suggestions for addressing the behavior problem.
Discuss the child’s behavior problems with family and educators. Determine the specific behaviors that reflect deeper problems. For example, showing a lack of empathy is a common developmental stage in children through age 6 or 7, but exhibiting consistent aggressive or violent behavior reveals a deeper problem.
Request that people in the child’s life keep observation records centered around the behavior problems. Teachers, administrators, counselors, specialists, parents and caregivers should note the time, frequency, duration and consequences pertaining to the behavior problem. In addition, they may jot down potential triggers of the child’s response.
Gather information. Bring observation records, academic records and any reports from specialists to your child’s pediatrician, who can then conduct an interview with you and the child and check for any medical basis for the behavior. Your pediatrician may also refer you to a specialist for further screening.
Consider an individualized education plan, or IEP, for you child. Schools and special educators develop these plans after doing observations, consulting with you child’s medical and academic records, meeting with professionals and conducting testing relevant to your concerns. This process may include a functional behavioral assessment that examines various factors, from intelligence to environment to social skills.
Create and implement a behavior plan. In conjunction with educators or specialists, make a target behavioral goal that is developmentally appropriate for your child. Make the goal quantifiable, such as that your child will work for 15 minutes on a project without having an outburst. Set consistent consequences, positive and negative, related to whether or not your child exhibits the target behavior.