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People say a child is "acting out" when they exhibit unrestrained and improper actions. The behavior is usually caused by suppressed or denied feelings or emotions.
Acting out reduces stress. It’s often a child’s attempt to show otherwise hidden emotions. Acting out may include fighting, throwing fits, or stealing. In severe cases, acting out is associated with antisocial behavior and other personality disorders in teenagers and younger children.
The psychological factors that prompt acting out are often complicated.
Common issues that cause a child to act out include:
There are several common signs that a child is acting out. If these signs last more than six months or become progressively inappropriate, you should consult a doctor.
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, warning signs from children can include the following behaviors:
Whether to speak with a doctor about your child’s acting out is a decision you should base on your personal observations. If you believe the symptoms are unmanageable or getting worse, you should consult a doctor.
You should also talk to a doctor if you think your child’s behavior is having lasting negative effects on your family or on the child’s development. Acting out can cause strife and disorder in your family. If you’re overwhelmed and disturbed by your child’s acting out, you should consider speaking with a child psychologist.
Your child will rarely need medications to address acting out. Medications may cause your child to be more sedate and less prone to outbursts. They do not address the underlying cause of the behavior.
In most cases, your best chance at adjusting your child’s improper behavior is to encourage better behavior. Here are some guidelines for responding when your child acts out:
When children fight, throw fits, steal, or engage in other unrestrained and improper behavior, people refer to it as "acting out." Reasons for this behavior are complicated, but it’s usually the result of a child’s suppressed emotions and feelings.
Acting out can stem from a child’s underlying attention issues, power struggles, lack of self-esteem, or personality disorders. Maintaining clear expectations using a calm, positive approach can go a long way to defusing the situation. If you feel overwhelmed, do not hesitate to consult a healthcare professional.
Written by: Joseph Pritchard
Medically reviewed on: Jun 14, 2016: Karen Richardson Gill, MD, FAAP
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