How to Spot Behavioral Problems in your Child

We all want the very best for our children, and we want to believe they are healthy and thriving. With such a wide range of “normal” behaviors, how do we know when our child’s behavior needs to be evaluated by a professional? 

Behavior problems are less concrete than physical impairments and may present a more challenging process of evaluation and diagnosis. Many behaviors, like tantrums, are perfectly normal for a two-year-old but not for a ten-year-old. It’s hard to know exactly when your child should leave a difficult behavior in the past and move on to a new stage. 

It’s no surprise that behavior problems are associated with decreased academic and social performance. Research published in Developmental Psychology found that persistent behavior problems in eight-year-olds are a powerful predictor of educational attainment and even of how well people will do in middle age. 

If you wonder whether your child’s behavior is normal, consider how long it has been going on, the intensity of the behavior, and the age of your child. Compare your child’s behavior to his or her peers and watch how other children respond to your child’s behaviors.

If your child seems to be stuck in one phase of troublesome behavior with no signs of outgrowing it, or if they exhibit a behavior much more intensely (or more often) than their peers, consider seeking a professional evaluation. Begin with an appointment with your child’s pediatrician; bring a detailed list of your concerns so that the doctor can make an appropriate referral. 

What To Look For

The definition of a “challenging” behavior differs from family to family and doctor to doctor. Don’t be afraid to ask your child’s pediatrician for advice if you aren’t sure whether a behavior is normal. 

  • Early signs of behavior disorders in preschool years may include teacher complaints of bad behavior in daycare, being more hyperactivite than peers, extreme disobedience or aggression, and frequent temper tantrums.
  • Older children with behavior problems may show a continuation of the behaviors listed above, destructive behaviors (such as vandalism), and threats of self-harm or harm to others. 

Early Detection 

Sometimes parents are told to wait to see if their child “grows out of” difficult behaviors. However, evidence shows behavior therapy is most successful before the age of seven. The earlier you detect a behavioral issue, no matter how mild, the more time you have to work with new skills and improve your child’s later academic performance and social skills. 

It can be overwhelming to track every milestone and wonder if your child is on track for future academic success. Spend plenty of time with your children and pay attention to how their behavior compares to other children. Don’t be afraid to trust your parental instincts and schedule an appointment if you have concerns about your child’s development!

Behavioral health is not the only factor that can negatively impact a child’s performance in school. Vision and hearing problems also play a role. To learn how to detect vision and hearing problems in your child, reference our blog articles.


Dubow, E. F., Huesmann, L. R., Boxer, P., Pulkkinen, L., & Kokko, K. (2006). Middle childhood and adolescent contextual and personal predictors of adult educational and occupational outcomes: A mediational model in two countries. Developmental Psychology, 42(5), 937-949.