10 Signs Your Child Could Have a Behavior Disorder

Some children misbehave, others are rebellious.

Kids typically act out due to stress or changes in the family dynamic—a divorce, birth or death in the family. But what if it’s something else?

Behavior disorders are more serious and can last for a longer period of time.

May 3-9 is National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week, with May 7 being National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day, and County Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA) officials are encouraging parents to be aware of the warning signs that may indicate their child needs help to manage a behavior disorder.

“Behavior disorders involve a pattern of aggressive or disruptive actions that last longer than 6 months and the behavior is also typically not appropriate for the child’s age,” said Alfredo Aguirre, director of HHSA’s Behavioral Health Services  division. “Parents and other family members are usually the first to notice when a child appears to have problems with emotions or behavior.”

According to the California HealthCare Foundation’s Mental Health Care in California report from July 2013, one in five children in San Diego County under the age of 18 has an emotional or behavioral disorder; about 7.5 percent of those have a serious emotional disturbance.

Warning signs of a behavior or emotional disorder could include:

  • Drastic changes in behavior or personality
  • Frequent tantrums and outbursts
  • Feeling very sad or withdrawn for two or more weeks
  • Intensive worries or fears that impede daily activities
  • Harming or threatening to hurt themselves, other people or pets
  • Damaging or destroying property
  • Lying or stealing
  • Not doing well in school, skipping classes
  • Early smoking, drinking, drug use or sexual activity
  • Consistent hostility toward authority figures

“If you see a potential problem, ask for help,” Aguirre continued. “Children’s behavior and emotional disorders are real, and they can be treated.”

The County provides mental health services to low-income individuals (including those with Medi-Cal) with serious mental illness or a serious emotional/behavioral disorder. The services are part of Live Well San Diego, the County’s vision to improve the health and quality of life of all local residents.

During fiscal year 2013-2014 (July 1 to June 30), Behavioral Health Services provided mental health services to 19,010 children and youth (under the age of 21) with a serious emotional disturbance.

If you have questions about resources you can ask your child’s school, contact your health care provider or call the Access and Crisis Line at (888) 724-7240 for a referral. 

José A. Álvarez is a communications specialist with the County of San Diego Communications Office. Contact