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Signs of Emotional Disturbances in Children

By Maelin McCartney ; Updated August 14, 2017

Every child goes through difficult periods as they grow up. Some throw temper tantrums, some go through periods of biting their peers and others go through shy phases. Short periods of poor behavior, while frustrating, typically aren’t cause for concern. However, when the behaviors last over long periods of time and do not improve with appropriate discipline or intervention, they may be a sign of a more serious emotional disturbance that requires medical help.


A common symptom of an emotional disturbance in a child is routine aggression. His aggression might be toward others, toward objects, toward pets or even toward himself. If your child regularly yells, hits, bites, kicks or pushes others, injures pets, throws objects in anger or injures himself, seek the advice of a doctor or a mental health professional.


Though many children go through bouts of hyperactivity, children with emotional disturbances often have prolonged or chronic hyperactive episodes. Signs include an inability to sit still, a short attention span and an inability to concentrate on tasks. A hyperactive child is often forgetful, disorganized, and impulsive and is prone to talking too much or interrupting conversations.


Another common sign of an emotional disturbance in a child is withdrawal from people or surroundings. He may seem chronically depressed, fearful of other people or situations, or display intense anxiety when faced with meeting new people or visiting new places. The symptoms in a withdrawn child with an emotional disturbance go beyond shyness; they interfere with his ability to maintain interpersonal relationships with friends, teachers and even parents.


Throwing temper tantrums beyond the toddler years, crying or laughing at inappropriate times and an inability to cope in situations that other children of his age would not have difficulty with are signs of immaturity. Lying and stealing are also signs of immaturity. All of these behaviors may be indicative of an emotional disturbance in your child.

Learning Difficulties

Learning difficulties in children who may have an emotional disturbance are not the same as learning disabilities. Kids describes a learning disability as a problem that affects the brain’s ability to receive, process, analyze or store information. In contrast, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act defines a child with a learning difficulty resulting from an emotional disturbance as a child with a difficulty learning that can’t be explained by intellectual, health or sensory factors. A child with a learning difficulty consistently performs below his grade level for no apparent reason.

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