5 Signs Your Child's Behavior Is Out of Control

mom frustrated because her child nearby has been misbehaving

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It isn't uncommon for parents to occasionally feel that their children's behavior is out of control. After all, most kids experience temper tantrums, rule-breaking, or other behavioral challenges from time to time.

In many cases, such behavioral issues can signify that a child's needs are not being met or that they are dealing with something stressful. Sometimes, however, these problems might indicate a more serious behavioral disorder or emotional problem.

This article discusses how to tell if your child's behavior is out of control and what steps you can take to help your child. Recognizing that there might be a problem and taking steps to improve your child's behavior can lead to better outcomes.

Frequent and Severe Outbursts

Temper tantrums are normal among younger children but decrease in frequency and severity as they age. If your child is still experiencing frequent and severe temper tantrums past the age of five, it may be a sign that they are experiencing a behavioral issue.

Behaviors that are sometimes viewed as out of control when they occur in older children include:

  • Crying, screaming, or yelling excessively
  • Kicking, punching, or hitting others
  • Holding their breath, going limp, or tensing their body
  • Flailing their arms or legs

Such tantrums are often in response to stress or unmet desire. Kids might engage in such behavior when they don't get what they want or when they want attention from others. Outbursts can also occur in response to being tired, hungry, or frustrated.

These outbursts are usually relatively brief, and most kids gradually outgrow them once they start school. If your child experiences longer-lasting, violent outbursts or continue to have tantrums past age five, it may be a sign of a behavioral issue.

Difficulty With Interpersonal Relationships

Another sign that your child's behavior might be out of control is having frequent interpersonal issues with other children and adults.

Common problems you might notice include the following: 

  • Your child might frequently be involved in arguments with other children that are never resolved. 
  • Your child blames others for these conflicts and cannot or will not acknowledge how their actions may have contributed to the problem.
  • They cannot get along with other children in school or other settings.
  • They struggle to maintain friendships.
  • They often alienate other adults due to their behavioral outbursts.
  • They are often excluded from social activities because others don't want to deal with their behavior.

These social problems can leave kids feeling isolated and take a serious toll on self-esteem.

Problems Managing Emotions

Another problem associated with out-of-control behavior in children is difficulty managing emotions. While younger kids struggle more with emotional control, this is an ability that gradually improves as children get older.

On the other hand, kids who experience emotional dysregulation have a more challenging time understanding and controlling their own emotional responses.

Emotional Dysregulation

Emotional dysregulation is characterized by problems identifying and responding to emotions in age-appropriate ways.

Signs of emotional dysregulation in kids include:

  • Intense, out-of-control outbursts of anger
  • Severe feelings of frustration
  • Trouble dealing with disappointment
  • Frequent crying
  • Frequent negative moods

Poor Impulse Control

Kids with out-of-control behavior may struggle to manage their impulses effectively. They may engage in actions without considering the consequences, leading to social, academic, or disciplinary problems.

Examples of impulsive behaviors that can cause problems include:

  • Acting out to get attention
  • Overreacting when frustrated, angry, or disappointed
  • Engaging in risky behaviors such as smoking, drinking, or using drugs
  • Not thinking about the consequences of actions
  • Lashing out at others
  • Interrupting others frequently
  • Taking things without asking
  • Feeling very impatient

Impulsivity can lead to many problems in your child's life. But when your child is out of control, impulsive behaviors can be dangerous. In such cases, it can be helpful to encourage your child to cool down, help them identify and name what they are feeling, and then talk about appropriate ways to deal with the problem.

Serious Behavioral Problems

Out-of-control behavior can often be more severe and lead to significant consequences. Examples of these behaviors can include:

  • Significant rule-breaking, such as skipping school, running away, or staying out at night
  • Bullying, fighting, cruelty toward others or animals, or other actions that may cause harm 
  • Stealing, lying, or damaging other people's property
  • Refusing to comply with adults' requests or rules 
  • Self-harm, thoughts of suicide, or suicidal behaviors

Such behavior patterns might indicate a behavioral disorder, such as oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) or conduct disorder (CD). ODD is usually between around age eight and no later than age 12. Conduct disorder may begin before age 10, but it is often diagnosed during adolescence.

In addition to contributing to social and academic issues, these severe behavior problems can lead to disciplinary and legal issues. In some instances, such behavior can threaten the health and safety of the child or others around them. If your child exhibits such behaviors, it is essential to talk to a doctor and take steps to help them get the treatment they need.

What to Do If Your Child's Behavior Is Out of Control

If you feel like your child's behavior is out of control, there are steps that you can take to improve your child's behavior. For many behavioral issues, effective parenting strategies can help caregivers get a handle on behavioral challenges. 

Some strategies that can help improve children's behavior include:

  • Establish clear household rules: Parents and caregivers should establish household rules, write them down, and discuss them with the child. Having rules can help kids learn to regulate their own behavior more effectively.
  • Create structure: Kids benefit when there is structure in the home, particularly when dealing with behavioral issues. Make a schedule, so your child knows what to expect each day.
  • Establish consequences: In addition to creating rules, it is essential to create consistent consequences for violations of the household rules. Examples of effective consequences include time-outs, restitution, and loss of privileges. Logical consequences, such as cleaning up a mess they made, can also be helpful.
  • Offer reinforcement: Look for ways to help motivate your child to manage their behavior more effectively. Praise them when they engage in desired behaviors. Create a reward system, such as a sticker chart, where a child can earn a specific reward for a pattern of good behavior.

When to Seek Help

If disciplinary and parenting strategies don't seem to be working or if your child's behavior poses a risk to others or themselves, it is essential to talk to a professional. Talking to your child's pediatrician is an excellent place to start. They can recommend treatments or refer you to other professionals for assessment, advice, and treatment. 

Treatment for behavioral issues may include psychotherapy, behavioral interventions, parent education, and medication. Joining a parent support group can also be a great source of information, advice, and encouragement.

Summary

Parents may feel that their children's behavior is out of control on occasion, but most kids experience temper tantrums, rule-breaking, or other behavioral challenges from time to time. In many cases, such behavioral issues can signify that a child's needs are not being met or that they are dealing with something stressful. Sometimes, however, these problems might indicate a more serious behavioral disorder.

Signs of out-of-control behavior include frequent and severe tantrums; difficulty with interpersonal relationships; poor impulse control; and serious behavioral problems like rule-breaking, bullying, and self-harm. If you feel your child's behavior is out of control, establish clear household rules, create structure in the home, offer reinforcement for good behavior, and seek help from a professional if necessary.

A Word From Verywell

Out-of-control behavior in children can be cause for concern, but most of the time, it can be addressed with consistent and positive parenting. If your child's behavior escalates beyond what you can manage, seek professional help. With the proper support and guidance, parents can help their children learn to regulate their own behavior more effectively.

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Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Kendra Cherry
Kendra Cherry, MS, is an author and educational consultant focused on helping students learn about psychology.