Behavioral Disorders in Children: Definition & Symptoms

Instructor: Yolanda Williams

Yolanda has taught college Psychology and Ethics, and has a doctorate of philosophy in counselor education and supervision.

Behavioral disorders disrupt children and the people and things around them. Learn about the different types of behavioral problems, the symptoms, and more.


All children misbehave at one point or another. As a child, you might have gotten into trouble for not cleaning your room or arguing with a sibling. Although getting into trouble occasionally is a normal part of growing up, some children have behaviors that are extremely difficult to deal with and are not common for their age. For example, we would expect a preteen to become upset and yell from time to time as he's going through puberty; we would not expect a preteen to get upset at a teacher and attempt to burn down a school building. The former would be considered a normal behavior, while the latter would be a symptom of a behavioral disorder.

What Are Behavioral Disorders?

Behavioral disorders refers to a category of mental disorders that are characterized by persistent or repetitive behaviors that are uncommon among children of the same age, inappropriate, and disrupt others and activities around the child. In the example above, setting fire to a school building is very inappropriate and it is an uncommon thing for a preteen (or any person for that matter) to do. It also disrupts the school building, the people within the school, and the community as a whole. Furthermore, burning down a school is a criminal behavior.

The three most common types of behavior disorders are attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), and conduct disorder (CD). All three of these disorders, along with their criteria for diagnosis, are listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

About 5-17% of children are thought to have a form of ADHD. There are three subtypes of ADHD. Each subtype is characterized by its primary symptoms. The symptoms of and subtypes of ADHD are:

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