Children with problems or problem children?

There’s nothing pleasant about being on the end of a child’s angry or aggressive outburst – whether you’re a parent or a teacher. And if that outburst happens in a classroom rather than the sitting room, the consequences for the child can be much more serious. But how can we tell if the child is just “being naughty” or whether mental ill health is the root cause? The BBC reports.

Research just published by the Mental Health Foundation suggests children’s behaviour changes when they feel “worried” or “sad” and mental ill health does not just present as young people bursting into tears, wanting to isolate themselves or self-harming.

A quarter of the 1,323 10- to 15-year-olds surveyed said when they felt down or anxious they got into fights or arguments. And another quarter said they found it difficult to do their homework.

Karen Young, a psychologist and a writer with psychology website Hey Sigmund, says feelings of anxiety can emerge from the normal functioning of a healthy brain.

“For kids with anxiety, any situation that is new, unfamiliar, difficult or stressful counts as a potential threat.

“The fight or flight response happens automatically and instantaneously, sending neurochemicals surging through their bodies, priming them for fight or flight.”

Put like this, it is easy to see why young people’s anxious feelings can turn into a punch-up in the playground or an angry outburst.

So how can parents and teachers know when a child’s poor behaviour crosses the line into poor mental health?

According to the charity website Mentally Healthy Schools, behaviour is often how children communicate hidden difficulties or distress.

“It is therefore essential to understand what a child is attempting to tell you through their behaviour,” it says. “Severe and persistent behavioural problems – usually known as conduct disorders – are our most common childhood mental health issue.”

Find out more about how to spot a child with a problems or a problem child Children with problems or problem children?

Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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