Behavioural Disorders

What is it?

Behavioural disorders may be diagnosed when children exhibit challenging and disruptive behaviours that are uncommon for their age at the time, persist over time, or are severe.

What types of behavioural disorders are common in children?

Oppositional Defiant Disorder

Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) typically starts before 8 years of age, but no later than by about 12 years of age. Children with ODD are more likely to act oppositional or defiant around people they know well, such as family members, caregivers or teachers.  

Some of the typical behaviours of a child with ODD may include:

  • Easily angered, annoyed or irritated
  • Frequent temper tantrums
  • Argues frequently with adults
  • Refuses to obey rules
  • Seems to deliberately try to annoy or aggravate others
  • Low self-esteem
  • Low frustration threshold
  • Seeks to blame others for any misfortunes or misdeeds

Conduct Disorder

Children with conduct disorder have a difficult time following rules and behaving in socially acceptable ways. Their behaviour can be hostile and sometimes physically violent.

 Some of the typical behaviours of a child with conduct disorder may include:

  • Frequent refusal to obey parents, caregivers or other authority figures
  • Physical aggression (e.g. cruelty toward animals or bullying) 
  • Lack of empathy for others and trouble expressing remorse
  • Eagerness to start physical fights
  • Frequent lying or manipulation
  • Blaming others for bad behaviour

Intermittent Explosive Disorder

Intermittent explosive disorder (IED) is a mental health disorder in which children exhibit short episodes of intense, uncontrollable anger or aggression. 

Some of the typical behaviours of a child with IED may include: 

  • Frequent outbursts 
  • Inability to resist impulses or anger
  • Intense explosions that can cause physical harm to people or animals, or damage to objects

 Low tolerance for frustrating situations, resulting in large and aggressive outbursts

What can be done? 

Behavioural disorders are complicated and may include many different factors working in combination. For example, a child who exhibits conduct disorder may also have ADHD, anxiety and depression.  

Diagnosis methods may include:

  • Diagnosis by a specialist, which may include a paediatrician, psychologist or child psychiatrist
  • In-depth interviews with the parents, caregivers, child and teachers
  • Behaviour checklists or standardized questionnaires

Treatment for behavioural disorders is usually multifaceted and depends on the particular disorder and factors contributing to it, but may include:

  • Parental/caregiver education: teaching the caring adults in the child’s life how to communicate with and manage their behaviour
  • Family-based therapy: the entire family is helped to improve communication and problem-solving skills
  • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT): the child is taught to recognize unhealthy thoughts and behaviours and learn how to change them
  • Social training: the child is taught important social skills (e.g. playing cooperatively with other children)
  • Anger management: the child is taught how to recognize the signs of their growing frustration and given a range of coping skills designed to defuse their anger and aggressive behaviour. Relaxation techniques and stress management skills are also taught.
  • Medication

What makes some children more vulnerable to behavioural disorders? 

  • Family history of mental health challenges and brain-based disorders 
  • Fetal exposure to substance abuse
  • Adverse childhood experiences and toxic stress

Where can I access support?

Talk to the child’s family doctor or pediatrician to help identify if the child’s behaviour is normal for their developmental stage. 

Talk to the child’s guardianship worker to explore what options are available for assessment so their diagnosis and treatment plan can be included in their Care Plan. The guardianship worker will help make appropriate referrals for specialized supports and services. 

Get an assessment through your local Child and Youth Mental Health team. Your local CYMH office offers a range of free and voluntary mental health services and supports for children from 0-18 years of age and their families. These services include assessments, therapy and treatment, education and referrals to specialized programs and resources. There are 100 intake clinics for children, youth and their families at convenient locations throughout BC. 

You can also contact a private psychologist or counsellor through the BC Association of Clinical Counsellors or the BC Psychological Association. You can use website filters to search for a counsellor in your community that specializes in certain mental health challenges.



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If you think a child or youth under 19 years of age is being abused or neglected, you have the legal duty to report your concern to a child welfare worker. Phone 1 800 663-9122 at any time of the day or night. Visit the Government of BC website for more info.


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