While it isn’t always easy to tell the difference between what is normal behavior and atypical behavior for a preschooler, there are signs you can look for that may signal a problem. Most times, negative behaviors in toddlers and preschoolers aren’t anything to be concerned about. However, if you’re worried that your preschooler’s frightful behavior is more than just a phase, it might be time to get some advice from a professional.
Question your child to find out if something is bothering him. There may be a particular situation or experience that’s causing him enough anxiety that he misbehaves. Let your child express his feelings. Even if you don't understand why your preschooler acts the way he does, you need to be sensitive to his feelings and let him know you care.
Look for signs that your child is frustrated or anxious. While a certain amount of anxiety is normal, a continuing pattern of worrisome behaviors could mean trouble. Your child may be suffering from high levels of anxiety if he has a habit of screaming or if he cries a lot. Being restless and fidgety or extremely silly can be other signs that your child is anxious.
Consider recent changes in your household. It may be that your little trooper just doesn’t deal well with change. Like adults, kids have different temperaments and for some, adjusting to change may not be easy. Moving to a new home, the arrival of a new baby in the household or getting a new babysitter may be the cause of your little one’s anxiety.
Pay attention to whether your child is having other problems. Don’t assume your preschooler is just being a brat. Sometimes medical conditions can actually affect a child’s behavior. A neurological disorder, food allergy or sensitivity, diabetes or a sleep disorder are just some of the medical causes that a health care professional may need to rule out.
Watch to see if your youngster’s aggressive behavior continues over time. "By age 4, your preschooler should be developing some self-control," says Dr. Susan Campbell, author of “Behavior Problems in Preschool.” However, there may be a more serious problem if, at this age, his behavior is constantly disruptive or he still has a habit of defying you or strikes out at you, his siblings or other children.
Talk to your child’s pediatrician and explain his behavior. Keep a journal noting his symptoms and behaviors so that you can give his pediatrician a clear picture of what’s going on. Write down when the behaviors take place so that you have a record of how often they occur. Tell the pediatrician about any family members who have suffered similar symptoms. Whether your pediatrician feels it necessary to refer your child to a mental health professional depends on the information you provide.
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