It's About Them

Young People … Our Greatest Resource

Is Bad Behavior Developmental Delay?


First of all, allow me to apologize for not attending to this blog as I should. A LOT has been going on. I hope to be a bit more diligent in the future.

Here’s an email I received recently. It brings up a very interesting issue.

I read somewhere that bad behavior is a symptom of developmental delay. What does this mean? I’m not certain I agree.

Developmental delay is one theory, and it’s a good one. There is plenty of research to back it up. It’s important to realize, however, that behavior in young people can stem from a number of issues and concerns.

For certain, developmental delay can be at the core of bad behavior. More specifically, developmental delay results in immature emotional, social and cognitive functioning. Bad behavior can be viewed as a defense, a cover-up for these deficits. A child who doesn’t know how to play with others can become so obnoxious no one would want to get close to him. A child with no tolerance for frustration will act out at the slightest provocation. The same holds true for youngsters who are academically challenged; they buckle with the slightest frustration.

If developmental delay is at the heart of the difficulty it is assumed that the youngster’s emotional, social and cognitive development were affected early on by stressors in the family system, such as abuse, neglect, abandonment, prolonged illness, or harsh or “misattuned” parenting. Often, the parents suffered the same circumstances themselves. Adopted children can be at risk for developmental issues.

Too often a youngster’s behavior brings on short-term relief. This actually serves to prolong the problem.

Here’s a scenario: A youngster becomes frustrated trying to do a math assignment in class. In exasperation he throws his textbook across the room. This lands him in the office, or at least in a time-out. Guess what he doesn’t have to do then … MATH! This behavior is “programmed” to be repeated.

This youngster isn’t proud of his loss of control; he doesn’t want to look so “needy”. He knows he has a short fuse, and it scares him as much as anyone else. This is good because the boy can be receptive to redirection and help that can make a better outcome for him, his teachers and his peers.

When skills improve, behavior improves.

Although oppositional and defiant behavior also can be attributed to developmental delay, it’s most often a characteristic of youngsters who have the skills; they simply select when and where they choose to use the skills or the defiance. Besides, if the siblings of an oppositional and defiant youngster are consistently doing well emotionally, socially and cognitively, how could we pin the trouble on developmental delay? 

Note: This article was posted in the May issue  of the ODD Management Digest. For a complimentary subscription to this excellent publication for parents, teachers and counselors of difficult children and teens, CLICK HERE.

James D. Sutton, Psychologist

May 28, 2010 Posted by | Counselors, Difficult Child, Educators, family, Parents, Self-esteem | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment