Childhood Disorders

While children can have similar mental health problems that adults have, like anxiety or depression, children's problems often have a different focus. Children may have difficulty with changes associated with growing up, such as beginning school. They may lag behind in comparison to how other children their age are progressing, or during stressful times, they may behave like a younger child would do. Even when children do have problems that also appear in adults, the problem tends to look different in a child. For example, anxious children are often very concerned about their parents and other family members. They may want to be near loved ones at all times to be sure that everyone is all right.

In this section, we list several different childhood disorders. If you are not sure which one you are looking for, we recommend you read the brief description provided for each disorder. If you still do not see what you need, try reading other sections of the website about treatments for similar problems in adults. Where possible, we provide a link to other websites that provide more complete information about each disorder. We also briefly discuss psychological treatments that have been scientifically tested. Although some medications are also helpful for childhood disorders, we do not cover them in this website. Of course, we recommend a consultation with a mental health professional for an accurate diagnosis and discussion of various treatment options. When you meet with a professional, be sure to work together to establish clear treatment goals for your child and to monitor progress toward those goals. Feel free to print this information and take it with you to discuss your treatment plan with your child's therapist.

This site covers the following topics:


Childhood Anxiety

Childhood anxiety occurs when a child is overly anxious, experiences separation anxiety, or avoids certain situations, people, or places. Usual signs of childhood anxiety include excessive distress when separated from home or from family members, worry about losing a loved one, worry about being lost or kidnapped, fear of going to school or away from home, difficulty sleeping away from home, and nightmares. Physical complaints such as stomachaches and headaches are common when the child is anticipating being separated from parents or other family members, such as spending the weekend with grandparents. These symptoms sometimes develop after an upsetting event in the child's life, such as the death of a loved one or a pet, beginning or changing schools, moving, or being ill.

Some evidence suggests that cognitive behavioral therapy is beneficial for treatment of childhood anxiety disorders. While other psychotherapies may be helpful for treatment of childhood anxiety, they have not been evaluated scientifically in the same way as the treatment listed here.

The Anxiety Disorders of Association of America: Anxiety Disorder in Children and Adolescents site has specific information about how anxiety disorders appear in children that may be different from adult anxiety.


Encopresis

Encopresis is the inability to control bowel movements, resulting in defecation (bowel movement) in clothing, in the bed, or on the floor. Encopresis is diagnosed in children who are at least 4 years old, although frequently children younger than 4 also cannot control their bowels. Encopresis more commonly affects boys than girls.

Some evidence suggests that behavior modification is beneficial for treatment of encopresis. While other psychotherapies may be helpful for treatment of encopresis, they have not been evaluated scientifically in the same way as the treatment listed here.

The Children's Medical Center at the University of Virginia ("Kid's Health") has an excellent website with more information about normal bowel habits and facts on encopresis.


Enuresis

Enuresis, commonly known as "bedwetting", is repeated urination during the day or night into bed or clothes. Enuresis is diagnosed in children who are at least 5 years old, although younger children often do have difficulty controlling urination.

Behavioral treatment is well-established as a beneficial treatment for enuresis. Behavioral treatment usually involves the use of a urine alarm device and parent education. While other psychotherapies may be helpful for treatment of enuresis, they have not been evaluated scientifically in the same way as the treatment listed here.

Click on the Fact Sheet on Bed-Wetting (PDF) for more facts on enuresis and some tips on helping your child with this problem. If you are interested in obtaining a urine alarm device, use your web browser to search for "urine alarm device" to find companies who sell these products on the internet.


Oppositional Behavior

Oppositional behavior includes things like losing one's temper, arguing with parents or teachers, refusing to follow rules, being mean or seeking revenge, deliberately annoying people, being angry and resentful, blaming others for one's own mistakes, and persistently being stubborn and unwilling to compromise. Usually oppositional behavior occurs at home, but it may also occur at school or in the community. Oppositional behavior is common in both preschool children and in adolescents.

Parent Management Training is well-established as a beneficial treatment for oppositional behavior in children. Parent Management Training involves helping parents learn new skills for dealing with oppositional and defiant behavior. While other psychotherapies may be helpful for treatment of oppositional behavior, they have not been evaluated scientifically in the same way as the treatment listed here.

The Not My Kid site has links with information on oppositional behavior, parent guides, anger control tips, and support groups.


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