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As children develop they are constantly growing and changing. It is important to bear this in mind if you child’s behaviour is disturbing. However, if the problem is not temporary or short-lived, do seek the help of a trained professional.

Attention deficit (hyperactivity) disorders - AD(H)D

Children with AD(H)D seem unable to sit still, finish tasks, concentrate or even notice what is going on around them. They may seem fine one day, whilst the next they are whirling round in frenzied activity. School reports may say, ‘Needs to concentrate and pay attention’. They tend to be daydreamers.

The attention deficit part of the disorder means that the child has trouble paying attention for long and is easily distracted. A low stimulus environment can be very helpful.

The hyperactivity part means that often the child has a constant need to be moving. They cannot control what their brain is telling them to do.

ADD/ADHD is a neurological condition, probably genetic in origin, characterised by impulsiveness and lack of forethought.If the child is also hyperactive, their behaviour may be highly disruptive.

An early diagnosis and treatment from a specialist can save a child the pain of inappropriate social skills and deflated confidence, and is crucial to their chances of achieving a good quality of life.

ADD/ADHD sufferers are usually of normal to high intelligence, highly creative and intuitive, and physically able. However, because they find it difficult to concentrate they frequently do not fulfil their true potential. This underachievement, and persistent criticism of their behaviour, can lead to low self-esteem and depression. They are often the class clown and may play truant.

In every class of 30 children it is likely that there will be between one and two pupils with ADD/ADHD.

Educational support, such as special help from a trained teacher outside the child’s class, plus extra help within the class, can enable a child to cope in mainstream school.

Useful strategies

It is important that home and school work together on a child's behaviour management programme. If rules and boundaries are similar there will be fewer opportunities for the child to get mixed messages. Putting a child on medication may help, but is a big step, so ensure you are happy with the decision.

  • Acknowledge and accept your child’s weaknesses and strengths, and design activities around their strengths to help their confidence levels.
  • Try to work out the times in the day when they work most productively, and ensure that a task begins and ends with an activity that they enjoy.
  • Bolster and maintain your child’s self-esteem, to help the ‘whole child’ develop.
  • School and the home must maintain close contact to ensure that your child receives consistent messages.
  • Don't personalise situations: it is the behaviour that you disapprove of, not the child.
  • Never discipline in anger: everyone says things in the heat of the moment that they later regret – you will say things that you don’t mean and, more importantly, sometimes that you can’t back up.

Emotional and behavioural and difficulties (EBD)

Strategies that help

Medication or psychiatric intervention may help some children; some may flourish best at an EBD school with specialist help and attention.

There is no easy answer to appropriate classroom strategies for a child with EBD because of the wide range of conditions that can underpin the label; however, the following may help:

  • small, carefully thought-out group settings or one-to-one working
  • use of learning mentors (or key workers or equivalent)
  • careful monitoring and targeting
  • structured routine
  • individual education plans (IEPs)
  • SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-related) targets
  • clear guidelines
  • involving and working closely with parents and the child
  • differentiated work tailored to learning need
  • rewarding and reinforcing positive behaviour
  • enhanced personal social and health education programmes
  • programmes for managing and controlling behaviour
  • anger-management programmes
  • counselling and peer support.

One special school we visited found the use of circle time at the end of the day to discuss the day, problems and their resolutions, to be effective and positive.

Another mainstream school told us that early intervention and the introduction of nurture groups appears to have lessened problems with behaviour and had a positive impact on all pupils, not just those in the nurture group.

Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)

All children disagree with their parents or teachers on occasion. However, ODD is far more than toddler tantrums or teenage rebellion. It involves extreme long-lasting, aggressive and defiant behaviour, often to people in authority.

Children with ODD will blame others rather than themselves and may seem angry and resentful, especially towards adults. Outwardly a child may appear irritable, with frequent temper outbursts, frustration and intolerance. Self-esteem is usually low, though it’s likely the child will project an image of toughness, and may well be anxious and depressed.

ODD may be partly biological, due to defects in the brain; it may be partly genetic, as often other family members have mood disorders; a dysfunctional family life may contribute.

Calmness, consistency and firmness are useful ways of managing ODD behaviour

Conduct disorders

Children and adolescents with conduct disorders tend to be physically aggressive. They may fight, bully, be cruel to people and animals, destroy other people’s property (possibly including arson), lie and steal.

Stealing ranges from ‘borrowing’ others’ possessions to shoplifting, forgery, car theft and burglary. Children with this disorder often lie, are truants, cheat at schoolwork and display callous behaviour. They may use or abuse tobacco, alcohol and other drugs at an unusually early age and be sexually precocious. Possible causes are similar to those of ODD.

Schools employ a variety of strategies when working with youngsters with conduct disorders, including behaviour management, social skills (often through enhanced personal, social and health education [PSHE] input), strategies to improve self-esteem and self-control, and close liaison and involvement with parents or carers.

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)

This is a condition where the sufferer experiences obsessive recurrent thoughts or images which disturb them and make them anxious. To relieve these unpleasant feelings, they may feel obliged to carry out repetitive behaviour.

This might include continually washing their hands, if they are afraid of contamination, or repeatedly checking that they have locked the door, if they are worried about burglars This may delay someone for an hour or so, or completely take over their life.

It can be treated by medication or by cognitive behavioural therapy, so it’s important to see a doctor as soon as possible.

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