Childhood is a time of rapid development: mentally, emotionally and physically. Children’s moods and behaviours vary greatly between each individual child and each child’s moods and behaviours can vary greatly from one day to the next. Such variation makes it difficult for parents to determine what is “normal” and what is not.
Whilst it is normal for all children to have rough patches and struggle with their emotions, behaviours and acquiring some new skills; consistent or prolonged unexplained delays in development, intense and persistent distressing emotions, or a few noticeable unusual behaviours may indicate that your child is experiencing a childhood difficulty or disorder.

What are the signs and symptoms of a Childhood Disorder/Difficulty?

Childhood Anxiety

  • Excessive worrying. Your child may worry about a lot of different things or specific things. Regardless of what your child worries about, the fear they experience can be intense and affect your child’s daily functioning. For example, your child may worry that you will get hurt or die, and struggle to separate from you. Or, your child may worry about specific situations, like swimming, going to the dentist or attending school.  Excessive worrying is a common symptom of Childhood Anxiety.
  • Constantly seeking reassurance. Your child may ask you the same question over and over again when they are worried. For example, “do you promise you won’t be late?” or at night, “are you sure the doors are locked?” Whilst the reassurance might help your child at first, you may find they need it more and more frequently.
  • Physical symptoms. For example, your child may often complain about a sore tummy or a headache. They may excessively bite their nails or frequently go to the toilet.

 Childhood Depression

  • Mood disturbances. Commonly children with depression show irritability and tend to ‘act out’. They may seem grumpy often and snap at others. Other children tend to feel sad and withdraw or cry often.
  • Physical symptoms. Your child may complain of frequent headaches or tiredness. You may notice changes in their sleeping patterns. For example, your child may sleep more than usual, or struggle to fall asleep and wake frequently in the night. They may also have more nightmares than usual. Changes in appetite (eating more or less than usual) are also common in children with depression.
  • Feeling hopeless. Your child may be speaking about themselves, their situation or their future in a negative and hopeless way. For example, they may say things like “why bother trying, I will only stuff it up anyway”, “what’s the point?” or “I want to die”.

 Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

  • Inattention. A child with ADHD may struggle to pay attention and focus in the classroom. Perhaps they frequently stare out of the window daydreaming. Or, you may notice they struggle to follow instructions and are distracted during simple tasks. This may result in tasks and activities often being left unfinished.
  • Impulsivity. A child with ADHD often acts before they think. They may repeatedly interrupt you or their teacher. They may have trouble waiting their turn and tend to take over in games. It can appear that they have poor ability to control their feelings and act immediately without a pause.
  • Hyperactivity. You may find that your child struggles to sit still. They may constantly fidget and squirm on the mat at kinder, or their teacher may report that they struggle to sit quietly at their desk. You may find your child talks excessively and rarely pauses for breath.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

  • Communication challenges. Children with ASD typically have difficulty communicating, which ranges in severity. Some children with ASD are unable to talk at all, or have very limited language. They may mimic words or phrases – for example, a toddler may repeat your questions, rather than saying “yes” or “no”. Other children may develop excellent language skills in certain areas that interest them, but have poor language skills in other areas. Children with ASD also lack non-verbal communication. For example, they may not use appropriate facial expressions or gestures, such as failing to make eye contact when pointing to an object.
  • Social interaction. A child with ASD may have difficulty developing and maintaining friendships. Perhaps you notice your child playing alone when you pick them up from kinder or school. They may not take interest in others around them and appear “content” to be alone. If they do have friends, they may struggle to understand general social cues – for example, boundaries of personal space.
  • Repetitive behaviour. Children with ASD tend to engage in repetitive behaviour. It could be a repetitive movement, such as rocking themselves on the floor or flapping their hands. It may be repetitive speech – for example, constantly saying the same word – or repetitive play – for example, spinning the wheels on a toy over and over again.

Social Communication Disorder

  • Conversational difficulties. You may find that your child struggles with the natural flow of ‘give and take’ in conversation. They may frequently interrupt or alternatively be extremely quiet and struggle to engage at all. This can make it difficult for your child to hold a conversation in a socially appropriate way.
  • Social interaction. A child with Social Communication Disorder may struggle with general interaction skills. For example, they may not greet people in a socially “normal” way, or they may not adapt their speech to different types of people or contexts – for example, they may talk to their friends in the same formal tone they use with their teacher.
  • Emotional awareness. A child with Social Communication Disorder may find it difficult to identify both their own and other people’s feelings. Your child may struggle to interpret people’s body language and facial expressions. Therefore, the child relies on specific and direct explanations and instructions.

Learning Difficulty

There are many different types of learning difficulties, such as Auditory Processing Disorder (APD), Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, Dyspraxia and Visual Processing Disorder; to name a few. A formal assessment by a trained professional (e.g. a psychologist) is required to diagnose a child with a learning difficulty/disorder. If you notice significant difficulty in your child’s reading, writing or mathematics skills, your child may be experiencing a learning difficulty/disorder. Learning difficulties/disorders vary greatly in severity.

  • Difficulty with reading. Your child may struggle to recognise or pronounce words when reading. They may stumble on and confuse words they know. Or, they may struggle with comprehension and find it difficult to understand a word or phrase’s meaning. A child that has difficulty with reading often dreads reading aloud and attempts to avoid it at all costs.
  • Difficulty with writing. Your child may struggle to copy words off the board at school. They may struggle to complete writing tasks in a timely manner and make many spelling errors. Their writing may be extremely messy. Some children struggle to organise and express their thoughts onto paper.
  • Difficultly with mathematics. Your child may struggle with understanding the meaning of numbers – for example, they may not understand that 15 toys is greater than 7. They may struggle with counting and the organisation of numbers. They may struggle with memorisation of numbers – for example, they may have difficulty recalling the times table. Your child may also write their numbers backwards, such as “12” instead of “21”.

Enuresis (Bedwetting) and Encopresis (Soiling)

  • Repeated wetting of the bed. You may be frequently washing your child’s bedding and various strategies to avoid wetting. Some children may also wet their clothes regularly throughout the day.
  • Difficulty controlling where your child poo’s. A child with encopresis often poo’s in any place but the toilet. For example, they may go in their underwear, on the floor or in their bed.
  • Withholding passing a bowel movement. A child with encopresis may actively hold on and avoid going to the toilet. This often occurs after experiencing a painful poo.

Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)/Conduct Disorder

  • Angry mood. Your child may be frequently irritable and angry. They may be negative and display temper tantrums over small things. Your child may be very hostile towards you and others.
  • Argumentative and defiant. A child with ODD or Conduct Disorder is often argumentative and challenges what others say. They may regularly break the rules and not care about the consequences – for example, repeatedly ignoring their teachers or wagging school.
  • Aggressive and deceitful behaviour. You may find that your child is continually involved in fights, or bullying other children and appearing to enjoy it. Some children may deliberately hurt animals. Your child may also break things in anger or punch and kick holes in the walls. Your child may lie frequently and steal from you and others.

Attachment Disorder

  • Developmental trauma affects a child’s ability to bond in a healthy way to their parents/caregivers. Children with an attachment disorder often avoid any type of comfort or affection from their parents. Their body may become stiff if you touch them or they may become aggressive. Instead, children with an attachment disorder attempt to self soothe in whatever way they can – for example, rocking back and forth on the ground when they are upset – or going up to complete strangers for comfort- for example, they may fall over in the playground and walk up to the closest adult and attempt to hug them, rather than go to their parents. Children with attachment disorders tend to be overly friendly with strangers.
  • Emotional difficulties. Children with an attachment disorder can experience various emotional problems. Some children may be emotionally detached and withdrawn. It can be extremely difficult to connect with them. Others may experience overwhelming and intense emotions like sadness, anxiety and anger at times that are unexpected. They may experience a roller coaster of emotions and it might feel like you are walking on eggshells around them.
  • Need for control. Children with an attachment disorder need to control their environment, including the people in it. For example, your child may constantly argue with you and attempt to dominate everything, from conversations to personal space.

How does a Childhood Disorder/Difficulty affect my child?

  • Relationships. Childhood psychological difficulties can impact their relationships with family, friends and teachers. Your child may be defensive and argumentative, leading to frequent conflicts. They also could be overly sensitive and take everything to heart. Similarly, they may continuously worry about what others think of them. In general, it can be difficult for children with a psychological difficulty to make and maintain friends, often leaving them playing alone.
  • School work performance. You may be getting calls or reports from your child’s school that they are not performing well. Their teachers may be worried that they are falling behind, or struggling to keep up to the average standard.
  • School engagement and attendance. It is common for children with psychological difficulties to avoid school. You may notice your child frequently takes sick days. Or, you may be struggling to get your child to go to school. Perhaps mornings are battlefield between you and your child, who is trying to find any excuse not to go. Alternatively, your child may pretend to go to school, but actually go somewhere else for the day.
  • Confidence and self-esteem. Children with psychological difficulties typically have low confidence. They may say things like “I am not smart enough to do that” or they may avoid trying new things as they fear failing. They may view themselves through a negative lens – for example, you may hear comments like “I wish I was smart” or “I’m so stupid”.
  • Physical symptoms. It might seem like your child is always complaining about feeling unwell. They may describe headaches, sore stomachs, and general aches and pains in their body. Regardless of how much sleep they get, they may be always complaining of feeling tired.
  • Withdrawal from loved ones. Your once bubbly and social child rarely spends time with their friends or family anymore. They may spend a lot of time alone in their room. It may feel like you are pulling teeth to engage them. They may be quieter and have retreated “inwards”.
  • Risky behaviour. Some children may engage in reckless behaviour when they have psychological disorders. For example, your child may be prematurely experimenting with alcohol and drugs. Or, perhaps they are doing risky things like train surfing, sneaking out at night or hanging out with an older crowd.

How do you treat a Childhood Disorder/Difficulty?

There are several well-researched treatments that are effective in treating Childhood Disorders/Difficulties, including Childhood Anxiety. Cognitive-behavioural Therapy (CBT) has been proven effective in the treatment of Childhood/Adolescent Depression, Anxiety (Generalised Anxiety, Phobia’s, Social Anxiety and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)), Sleep Disorders, Chronic Fatigue, ADHD, Enuresis, Oppositional Defiant Disorder and Conduct Disorder. Family Therapy (FBT) also demonstrates positive treatment outcomes in Children/Adolescents with Depression, Bipolar, Bulimia Nervosa, Anorexia Nervosa, Substance-use Disorders, Oppositional Defiant Disorder and Conduct Disorder. Self-Help also proves effectiveness in the treatment of Depression, Bulimia Nervosa, Substance-use Disorders and Enuresis. Finally, Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT) has shown successful outcomes in Children and Adolescents with Depression.

How can Peaceful Mind Psychology help?

We are experienced and trained in treating psychological difficulties/disorders in children and adolescents. If your child is experiencing a Childhood Disorder/Difficulty, including Childhood Anxiety, and you would like some professional assistance contact us at Peaceful Mind Psychology.