Is It Poor Attention? Bad Behavior? Or Possibly a Mood Disorder?

Deciphering the meaning of children’s problematic behavior can be challenging. There are many reasons why a child may have difficulty performing at school, getting along with peers, and/or having warm relationships with family members at home. If you are noticing that your child is having any of these difficulties, it is always a good idea to check in with your child’s primary care physician as well as teacher(s). Input from professionals who see many children on a daily basis can give you useful feedback on how “out of the ordinary” your child’s behavior is. It is common for children to “save the worst for those they love the best”—in other words, your child may behave quite well at other families’ homes, at school, and when out and about, but act out at home. The good news about this is—your child is capable of behaving well! The bad news is—it is frustrating for parents to deal with frequent melt-downs. Seeking to understand the reason for misbehavior will help you to help your child.

Irritability is to children’s mental health what fever is to pediatrics. Pediatricians do not diagnose Fever Disorder, they consider fever a symptom that signals something is wrong and they investigate further to determine the accurate diagnosis and from that, an evidence-based treatment plan. If your child struggles with frequent irritable mood that causes impairment at home, school, or with peers, seek a mental health provider who will conduct a careful diagnostic assessment. This will help to determine what “hangs together” with the irritable mood—it might be the frustration of a child with a learning disability or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, the discomfort felt by a child with significant anxiety and worries, the emotional window into a child’s depression, adjustment to recent stressors, or another mental disorder. Each of these conditions warrants a different evidence-based treatment plan- so getting the correct diagnosis is a first step to recovery!

About the Doc

About the Doc

Mary Fristad, PhD, ABPP, is a Professor of Psychiatry, Psychology and Human Nutrition at the Ohio State University. Dr. Fristad is the Director of Research and Psychological Services in the OSU Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry; her area of specialty is childhood mood disorders. She has published over 150 articles and book chapters addressing the assessment and treatment of childhood-onset depression, suicidality and bipolar disorder (manic-depression). Dr. Fristad has been the principal or co-principal investigator on over two dozen federal, state, local grants focused on assessment and treatment of mood disorders in children.

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