Understanding Your Child’s Emotional and Behavioral Challenges

Some areas of development may benefit from more focused attention in early childhood
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There are diverse programs and services available for children and families dealing with developmental, emotional or behavioral extra needs. The areas of development that may benefit from more focused attention in early childhood include, but are not limited to, developmental delays or neuroatypicalities; fine or gross motor difficulties; speech and language delays or impairments; and emotional and behavioral challenges. This month, we will focus on this last category of development.


One of the more common challenges of early childhood is a child’s resistance to a lengthy separation from his parents, such as attending school for the day. Many children take some time to become comfortable with this, especially in the preschool years. Usually, with time, these struggles work themselves out and children gradually become more comfortable with saying goodbye to parents and joining a group for a few hours each day at school. When a child doesn’t seem to be settling in, and when goodbyes are not mutual (e.g., parents need to sneak out or have to leave a crying child), he or she may be in need of some extra attention in this area.

Shyness and Inhibition

Some children tend to be more inhibited, reserved or shy, while others are more easily outgoing and social. These differences are often simply a part of our various personality types. When is shyness rooted in something other than personality type? For some children, shyness or inhibition does not stem from a place of comfort rooted in their personality, but is rather tied to an uncomfortable feeling in certain situations that causes them to freeze, close up or turn inward. The signs of inhibition needing some form of intervention can be difficult to spot. Some questions parents or teachers can think about include: Does the child seem to behave differently in different environments? Do certain circumstances or events cause the child to become more reserved than usual? Is the child able to make friends and play with others in a group setting?

Behavioral Challenges

Behavior is perhaps one of the more difficult areas of development to measure. For all children, resisting or pushing back on limits, fighting with siblings and simply being “difficult” at times are a typical part of growing up and learning about the world. It can be hard for parents to know when behavioral challenges cross the line between expectable and problematic. 

As a general rule, behaviors are problematic when they consistently interfere with a family’s day-to-day routine. A tantrum once in a blue moon is not likely a cause for concern. Regular tantrums, outbursts or stubbornness that lead to a parent or teacher having to consistently react in an extra careful or hardworking way may indicate that there is an underlying problem that may require specialized attention.  


Rigidities and Inflexibility

Similar to behavioral challenges, rituals or rigidity that get in the way of everyday events may be related to an underlying emotional difficulty. While some children can be particular about certain things, such as wanting to stick to a bedtime routine, those who seem to lose their ability to function when things are not just right may be in need of additional help. For questions or concerns in these or other areas of your child’s social and emotional development, visit lucydanielscenter.org, where you can search archived articles on these subjects.

The Lucy Daniels Center is a nonprofit agency in Cary that promotes the emotional health and well-being of children and families. Visit lucydanielscenter.org to learn more.


Categories: Development, Family, Health and Development, Lifestyle, Mental Health