Common stress and behavioural problems in children

Psychiatric disorders among children are described as changes in the way children typically learn, behave, or handle their emotions, which cause distress and problems getting through the day.

Among the more common psychiatric disorders that can be diagnosed in childhood are-

  • Developmental disorders-Intellectual disability, Autism, Specific learning disorder
  • Externalizing disorders- ADHD, ODD, CD
  • Internalizing disorders – Depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder

Intellectual disability (ID), once called mental retardation, is characterized by below-average intelligence or mental ability and a lack of skills necessary for day-to-day living. People with intellectual disabilities can and do learn new skills, but they learn them more slowly.


Autism spectrum disorders comprise group of neuropsychiatric disorder characterized by difficulties in social interaction, language and communication and repetitive behaviours with onset before 3 years of age.

Specific learning disorder disorders characterized by inadequate development of specific academic skills. Types of learning disabilities include reading disability (dyslexia), mathematics disability (dyscalculia) and writing disability (dysgraphia).

ADHD is one of the most commonly diagnosed childhood psychiatric disorders. ADHD has long-lasting effects with implications across the lifespan. The disorder is characterized by inattentiveness (e.g., difficulty remaining on task, a lack of attending skills, disorganization) and hyperactivity (e.g., an inability to sit still, impulsive behaviour).

Children with ODD display a great deal of aggression, purposefully annoy others, show defiance persistently, are negativistic, disobedient and have trouble with authority figures.

Conduct disorder (CD) refers to a set of problem behaviours which may involve the violation of a person, their rights or their property.

The symptoms of depressive illness are much the same in children as in adults – low mood, anhedonia, altered sleep and appetite, and depressive thoughts.

Separation anxiety disorder the anxiety is unusually severe or occurs in older children, and causes some problems in social functioning such as preventing the child from attending school. Symptoms include persistent worries about separation from the attachment figure (usually mother) and great distress if forced to do so. Some will refuse to go to sleep without their mother nearby and have nightmares about separation.

In school refusal the child refuses to attend school because of specific fears about the school, the journey to it or separation anxiety.

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