Sometimes, we see our kids act out, and we know instinctively, “He’s acting this way because he needs a nap.” We know the behavior is temporary and is caused by biological circumstances.
And when our kids have meltdowns consistently for a week or two, we can acknowledge that, “He’s probably just teething,” or “Going through a growth spurt.”
Yet, when behaviors last longer than a couple weeks, we stop looking at biological or environmental factors that could be contributing to their outbursts, and we start assuming that either we’re making a huge mistake as parents or our child has a behavior disorder.
In reality, long-lasting behavioral episodes CAN be indicative of a disorder, but it can also still be entirely environmental/biological.
Here are some common reasons a child could have prolonged behavior problems that are NOT based on behavior disorders or ineffective parenting:
1. Major family changes
Did your family recently go through a divorce? Did you lose a loved one? Have you moved to a new city? Did one of the parents in the family start a new job with new hours?
It’s completely normal for kids to have behavioral changes for several months after a major life change. Think about how overwhelming it is for us, as adults, and how long it takes for us to adapt. They have significantly less practice at adapting.
They also don’t always know how to express when they’re feeling overwhelmed so the feelings may manifest in ways that aren’t productive. This could look like yelling, throwing a tantrum, showing aggression toward siblings, crying, refusal to do things they’re usually willing to do, or disinterest in enjoyable activities.
It’s always a good idea to reach out for medical advice when you’re concerned that your child might be experiencing situation depression, but MOST of the time, these emotional changes are normal in a child who is going through a life change, and they’ll level out after a couple months with consistency in the home.
2. Disturbances in sleep pattern
Is your child waking up a lot in the night? Are they not getting naps when they were used to having them before? Are they staying up too late or being woken up too early?
All of these things are fine in moderation, but when it goes on for too long, it can really start to take a toll on the human body, regardless of age. In children, the effects are exacerbated because they rely on sleep more than adults to.
3. Vitamin deficiency
Certain vitamin deficiencies, such as an iron deficiency, can cause fatigue in children. It can cause fatigue in adults too, but in children, everything is a bit more exaggerated because they’re more vulnerable. And as we all know, fatigue leads to crankiness and crankiness leads to poor behavior!
Sometimes those continued meltdowns for a month straight are because of something biological that no one is aware of.
If this is something you’re concerned about, your medical doctor can help rule it out!
4. Insufficient physical activity
Believe it or not, MORE physical activity in kids makes them less sluggish. Exercise releases endorphins (the happy chemical), which improves kids’ moods. It also promotes sleep and healthy digestion, which provide kids with a better foundation to make good choices.
Mood is such a determining factor in childhood behavior! They haven’t yet learned how to separate their emotions from their logical thought process.
5. Change in schedule or structure
Summer break. That’s all I can say here. If your kids are on summer break, Christmas vacation, or spring break, their typical schedule is likely to be thrown off. Over the shorter two-week breaks, it’s not as big of a deal, but over the three-month summer break … whew.
In my house, the kids and I all have to stay home in the summer to save on childcare costs since I can work from home. That means their routine is entirely dependent on me to maintain it.
I’m probably the least scheduled person in the entire world. Firm in expectations, but not structured or scheduled.
For my oldest daughter, that change has been a welcome relief from the rigors of school. For my youngest, that change has been miserable. She craves the structure of daycare, knowing exactly what will happen at every time of the day.
She loves lunch at eleven, nap time at noon, and seeing mom and dad at four. Being home for the summer, being able to do whatever she wants for the majority of the day, has made her the crabbiest little bear you could imagine.
When someone isn’t telling her what is expected of her, she’s going to invent something that gets everyone’s attention. And it almost always gets her in trouble.
Do I know I’m setting her up for failure a little bit with this? Yes, but my schedule doesn’t permit a HUGE amount of structure, and I try to be understanding of her needs. We’re surviving, slowly but surely.
And saving up for a sweet gift for the daycare provider in the fall.
6. Damaged relationship between child/adulta
If a child is showing behavioral outbursts at school or daycare, but doing fine at home, there might be a problem in the relationship between your child and their teacher.
When a relationship is damaged past the point of return, a child will become in increasingly more defiant, which will make them look like a behavioral “concern.” There might be something underlying such as ADHD or ODD, but a lot of the times, it’s just discord between the two people involved.
It’s defiance against a person they really dislike or feel is unfair to them.
7. Social stress at school or daycare
Sometimes kids get picked on at school. Sometimes they’re the bully because they feel self-doubt. Sometimes they have a hard time making friends and feel ostracized.
There are a number of reasons why a child could be experiencing social stress at school or daycare, but all of them can lead to behavior problems at school or home. A lot of kids can “keep a lid” on their stress while they’re at school, especially those who are prone to obedience at all costs, but once they get home, the lid comes off.
As a long of parents explain, they just can’t hold it together any longer.
It’s a good idea to investigate these areas of concern while trying to wade through prolonged behavior problems.
8. Digestive problems
Oh, man. I can’t say this enough. Gut health has a strong correlation with mental health. If your kid has undiagnosed food intolerances or allergies, believe me, their behavior will be affected by it.
If your kid is eating more potato chips and ice cream than they are fruits and vegetables, they’re going to feel like crap. They might not be able to express that, but they will.
If you filled your car the wrong kind of gasoline for several months at a time, your car would start to run poorly and then you’d be paying for a big bill at the mechanics.
It’s the same with kids. Food is FUEL, which means we can only operate based on the fuel we’re given.
I’m not saying kids can’t eat ice cream or indulge in pizza nights or have soda when they go out to dinner. I’m saying if those things comprise the majority of their diet, they’re going to show signs of physical exhaustion.
And, as we’ve stated before, physical exhaustion and sluggishness leads to grumpiness.
That’s it for the week, guys! Hopefully this helps you wade through some of the emotions you might be having with your kiddos right now.
Know that you’re not alone, you’re not a terrible parent (look at you – you’re already seeking advice!), and your kid really is a unique little person with individual needs.
Happy parenting, friends.