Child behavior problems are sometimes due to behavior disorders, many of which develop very early in childhood. The most common child behavior problems are covered briefly below.

Child Autism

Autism is a lifelong behavior disorder that develops in childhood. Child autism usually develops between the first year of life and three years of age. Symptoms of child autism include:

  • compulsive behavior
  • echolalia (repetitive use of a word or phrase)
  • impaired social relations
  • language disorders
  • ritualistic behavior.

Child autism often presents with mental retardation. The severity of child autism varies widely, from severe cases of autistic disorder, where independent daily functioning is almost impossible, to a mild variant of child autism known as Asperger’s syndrome.

Childhood Onset Pervasive Developmental Disorder

Researchers believe that childhood onset pervasive developmental disorder is related to child autism, though it has a higher onset age. A pervasive developmental disorder usually occurs between the ages of three and 12. Until the onset of pervasive developmental disorder, childhood development is normal.

Like child autism, pervasive developmental disorder causes impaired social skills. Other child behavior problems associated with pervasive developmental disorder include abnormal body movements, gestures and speech patterns.

Childhood Disintegrative Disorder

Childhood disintegrative disorder is one of the most severe of all the child behavior problems. Childhood disintegrative disorder occurs after age three and is marked by a serious loss of pre-existing developmental skills.

Childhood disintegrative disorder often begins with a period of nonspecific illness and mood changes. Once the behavior disorder begins, the child’s developmental abilities decline rapidly. Childhood disintegrative disorder causes severe child behavior problems. Any child affected by the behavior disorder requires lifelong care.

Childhood Schizophrenia

Childhood schizophrenia has similar symptoms to adult schizophrenia, but is much less common. While adult schizophrenia affects one in 100 adults, childhood schizophrenia affects only one in 40,000 children. Childhood schizophrenia usually develops after age 7.

Childhood schizophrenia produces a number of child behavior problems, including social withdrawal, apathy, flat emotions, hallucinations and delusions. As with adult schizophrenia, the cause of childhood schizophrenia is unknown, although a combination of genetic susceptibility and environmental factors is thought to trigger the disorder.

Conduct Disorder

A conduct disorder is a childhood behavioral disorder marked by aggression, theft, property destruction and frequent rule-breaking. The onset of conduct disorder usually occurs in late childhood or the early teens. Behavior problems indicative of conduct disorder are more common in boys than girls, but either gender can develop the behavior disorder.

One-third of conduct disorder cases continue into adulthood: A childhood conduct disorder is one of the diagnostic criteria for adult antisocial personality disorder.

Eating Disorders

Eating disorders, while usually associated with teens and young adults, are now appearing in children as young as eight. Anorexia and bulimia are the most common eating disorders that affect children.

  • Anorexia is suspected to affect one out every 100 to 200 girls.
  • Bulimia rates may be as high as one to three out of every 100 children.

Oppositional Defiant Disorder

Oppositional defiant disorder describes a collection of child behavior problems centered on resistance to authority and rules. Between 5 and 15 percent of schoolchildren meet the criteria for oppositional defiant disorder. Child behavior problems characteristic of oppositional defiant disorder include:

  • active refusal to comply with rules
  • anger
  • blaming others for one’s own misbehavior
  • deliberate attempts to upset adults
  • hateful talk when upset
  • ongoing arguments with adults
  • overt resentment
  • seeking revenge
  • tantrums.

The combination of child behavior problems associated with oppositional defiant disorder greatly impairs the child’s ability to function in daily life. Oppositional defiant disorder can develop into a conduct disorder as the child ages.


American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry staff. (2007). Children with oppositional defiant disorder. [No. 72]. Retrieved August 2, 2007, from the AACAP Web site:

 Posted on : June 23, 2014