Health Chats
Normal vs. Abnormal Child and Adolescent Behavior?
Thursday Apr 02, 2009, 03:00PM - 04:00PM (EST)
Kevin Kennedy, Ph.D.Blank
Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates
, Braintree, MA
Do you have children or teenagers that are acting up or acting out? Behavioral problems in childhood and adolescence are very common and in many cases part of normal development as children learn to test their boundaries and to distinguish between acceptable and unacceptable behavior. We've all heard about the Terrible Two's and teenage rebellion. But sometimes behavioral problems can be symptomatic of an emotional disturbance or disorder.<br><br> If you have questions about a child who is overly shy or aggressive; who swears, lies, steals, or fights; who has separation anxiety; who throws temper tantrums; or who is violent towards themselves, other people, or animals, get answers to your questions in this hour long chat. Join Dr. Kevin Kennedy of Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates to learn how to tell the difference between normal and excessive behavioral issues and how to deal with behavior problems through systematic behavior management plans.
MedHelp:
Hello Everyone.  Thanks for coming.  This chat will start in 15 minutes but feel free to submit your questions early.
ChitChatNine:
I was at a wrestling tournament last month with my 10 year old son.  An 11 year old boy lost his match.  He came off the mat and was very upset.  His Dad tried to console him and the boy shouted back extreme curse words and told his Dad to "go away".  The spectators couldn't miss this exchange of words.  The Dad kept quiet.  They walked away.  Shouldn't an 11 year old know better than to use such extreme profanity at a sporting event?  Obviously, the Dad figured it'd go away if he ignored it, but I think he's sending the wrong signal to his child.  What are your thoughts on profanity at a young age in society being so widespread and the kids feel it's acceptable?
MedHelp:
Thank you Dr. Kennedy for participating in this chat today.
Kevin Kennedy, Ph.D.:
The father used good judgement in not pursuing this at the moment it occurred, because to have done so would likely just have made matters worse. Hopefully he addressed it later. I agree with your concern, though, about the nature of some children's discourse. Naturally children and teens rely on their parents to a great extent to guide them, and I hope we see some widespread concern about the quality of children's language and the common use of profanity.
jhamelin:
I have a 14 year old son, a 6 year old daughter, and a 16-month old son.  The 14 year old watches my daughter after school for about 3 hours each day and is ok with that but when we (me/father) are home, my son is always insulting her and saying/doing things to push her buttons.  Sometimes she "deserves" it, but other times she is totally innocent and he seems to enjoy making her upset for no apparent reason.  It causes a lot of stress in the house and I was wondering if this kind of behavior is normal?  I'm thinking he should be a little more mature considering the age difference between the two of them.
Kevin Kennedy, Ph.D.:
To a certain extent conflict between/among siblings is normal, but it is nonetheless important for parents to set limits on behavior that is physically aggressive or is hurtful in an emotional way. While to a certain extent this is a matter of judgement for parents, some behaviors clearly cross the line. It is up to parents to establish sound values in the home, including respect for each other.
Angelfire3:
Hello, I have a set of twin boys who are 4.5 yrs old. I'm very concerned for one of my sons. One day my mother informed me that my son likes to stick things in his butt (table end, toys, finger, etc) and she feels he's gay. I told her that children his age likes to "explore" their bodies.  Well, now I'm starting to question that. This morning I caught my son on my sofa putting his toy hammer in his butt. I got very angry because I've never witnessed him doing that before. My other son does not exhibit that behavior.  Do I have cause for concern? Is this normal exploitative behavior or is this a sign that he may be gay? I'll still love him none-the-less. I just want to know.  Thank you.
Kevin Kennedy, Ph.D.:
I would encourage you not to regard this behavior as having anything to do with your son's sexual orientation. The behavior is not to be regarded as normal, and it is worthwhile talking with your son about it and asking him how he came to learn about this behavior. Now it is not necessarily an indication that anything amiss has occurred, but it is sensible to ask about whether anyone has behaved this way with him. In any case, be sure to have his pediatrician examine him and set a frim limit on the behavior because it can result in physical harm.
cadeneal:
I have a gifted 10 year old daughter.  She is bright and creative and generally well behaved.  After a visit with her father (we have been divorced 6 years and she sees him for a few weeks a year during summer and holidays) she was more anxious and a bit rebellious.  I understand that there will be a period of adjustment after a visit like that.  She was very angry and irritable.  She took a fork from the table and put it at my neck.  This certainly is abnormal behavior.  I believe she was "acting" and her anger was nothing close to being that violent.  We made sure she knew this was NOT ok and was sent to her room to cool off.  My question is, when you have a child with above average intelligence are outbursts like this common or could it be indicative of a disorder?
Kevin Kennedy, Ph.D.:
It is not at all unusual for children to display some degree of unsettled behavior after spending time with the parent with whom they do not live most of the time. However, it is one thing to be unsettled and another thing to be violent. So it is the specific nature of your daughter's behavior that is of concern, not the general fact that she was unsettled. It would be prudent to arrange an evaluation with a pediatric mental health professional who can help you check this out.
tbak:
My 8 year old daughter easily gets frustrated/upset. She lashes out by threatening to hit or throw something at me. She has stated that she should just die or she will say she should kill herself. Her behavior is reeking havoc on the family. She is an only child. My husband and I are in need of some answers on how to deal with this behavior. She does not seem to behave this way at school. Her teacher is not aware of her behavior at home.
Kevin Kennedy, Ph.D.:
Such a problem with impulse control is not uncommon in young children, but your daughter is now at an age when normally more control of emotions is in evidence. Now, the fact that she is doing well at school is a positive sign, and it pretty much indicates that no serious level of disturbance is occurring. However, a systematic plan for intervention is called for. I recommend you read Lynn Clak's book SOS Help for Parents and implement the guidelines precisely the way Dr. Clark describes. You'll be pleased with the result.
cganno:
What is normal anger response for a child?  I have a child that reacts violently but both parents do not exhibit this style nor is the child allowed to watch violence on tv.
Kevin Kennedy, Ph.D.:
This is a hard question to answer because the normal spectrum is pretty wide. However, if by violent you mean that your child is physically aggressive, that is not a normal situation. In part, expectations depend on age. For example, a temper tantrum in a child of two or three is normal; it is not normal in a child of nine or ten. If you are concerned about the normalcy of your child's behavior, don't hesitate to have him/her evaluated.
ajayv:
Do you believe in giving children allowances to do chores or for good behavior?
Kevin Kennedy, Ph.D.:
I absolutely endorse the notion of contingency systems by which certain behaviors are rewarded in some fashion. Obviously it does not make sense to indulge children, but as long as the rewards are modest and reasonable such plans can be a very useful part of an overall approach to behavior management. Too often, perhaps, we stress discipline and ignore the positive tactics of behavior management. Sound behavior management involves both discipline and reward.
cganno:
What is a normal anger or disappointment response for a 7 year old?  
Kevin Kennedy, Ph.D.:
Seven-year-olds are still learning how to manage the anger that comes when their wishes are frustrated. At this age children are still pretty much egocentric and pleasure seeking, but they are learning to accommodate their behavior to the demands of the real world. Certainly verbal expressions of anger or frustration are normal, as long as they do not include profanity or insults. Physical displays such as hitting, kicking, throwing things, banging things, etc. are not to be regarded as normal.
sk123:
I was out at a restaurant with my friends and their 4-year-old son. He did not want to eat the food that was ordered and threw a tantrum, complete with crying and screaming. It's extremely embarrassing. His parents finally gave in and let him eat just dessert. What should the parents do in this case?
Kevin Kennedy, Ph.D.:
It would have been prudent to remove him from the restaurant the moment the behavior began. If children have not yet learned how to manage their behavior, particularly when their wishes are not followed, it's best not to place them in such situations to begin with. Too often children are introduced to settings such as restaurants at too early an age.
ForgotRomans828:
I have a 15 year old son and 12 1/2 yr. old daughter.  The question is about "normal" adolescence in girls.  She has not yet started menses, but it is obvious it is imminent.  She has always been a child that was "blissed out on life," very much focused in a fantasy world, pretty insecure in light of her brother who casts a long and wide shadow.  Of late, she has become an "air head."  She doesn't remember instructions that you gave her 30 seconds ago.  She will get something out of the freezer and forget to shut the door, and on and on.  Is this a "phase," or is she developing adolescent onset ADD?  Should I be concerned?
Kevin Kennedy, Ph.D.:
A couple of points. There really is no adolescent-onset ADD. By definition, ADD (really the diagnosis is ADHD, even when no hyperactivity is present) is evident by the time a child is seven. Now, the behaviors you describe are not at all unusual in children her age. This is due to the development of the frontal cortex, the last part of the human brain to develop (the brain develops from back to front). Such skills as planning, organization, certain aspects of memory, etc. are associated with the frontal cortex. That is why many adolescents behave the way they do.
nyydad:
There is this boy (age 10) in our neighborhood that  is rather quite aggressive with his friends (he is into wrestling). The other day, for the second time, he  urinated on a neighbors floor. He just stood there and did it, no attempt to go to the bathroom. The week before he killed a bird. We are afraid he is going to really hurt someone soon. He comes from a rather bumpy upbringing, his mother is an alcoholic, his father a drug addict. He lives with his father and grandparents. He hardly gets any discipline and is yelled at all the time. He has been in trouble in school many times. I believe he has some anger issues and I am scared for the boy and his family. Please help.
tbak:
My 8 year old is also above average in intelligence. I am wondering also if this could have an impact on her outbursts of frustration. I am wondering if it could be a sign of Aspbergers syndrome or something along that line?
MedHelp:
Please keep your questions brief.  Questions that exceed the character limit will not be accepted.  Thank you.
Kevin Kennedy, Ph.D.:
Outbursts of frustration are really independent of intelligence in general.
Kevin Kennedy, Ph.D.:
Signs of Asperger's Disorder have more to do with difficulties in trelationships than with anger control.
Kevin Kennedy, Ph.D.:
You may have noticed one of my earlier references to the book S
Kevin Kennedy, Ph.D.:
OS Help for
Kevin Kennedy, Ph.D.:
arents. You might like to look at it re: the problem of managing children's expressions of frustration.
Kevin Kennedy, Ph.D.:
I mistakenly lost a question about a child who is behaving aggressively and who urinated on a neighhbor's floor and killed an animal. These are signs of serious emotional disturbance and the child requires evaluation asap.
cganno:
My son has recently started at a public school, 2nd grade, and previously was at a very small private school.  He's brought home all the typical language, attitudes that I expected from a public school but i'm concerned about the things he and his friends talk about.  Thankfully he shares with me!  The types of conversations they have on their free time at school surrounds topics like bathroom talk, or trying to give themselves bloody noses, or someone talking about horror movies (R rated) they've seen and all the aspects of it.  The conversations seem base, gross and not about anything positive or worthwhile.  Is it unrealistic to believe they would be talking about vacations, field trips they've taken or will take, school stuff  or anything else besides really disgusting and, in my opinion, a waste of time?