How to Navigate 4 Common Child Behavior Changes (and When to Worry)

A mom and daughter looking at a tablet together

It is not unusual for parents to be surprised at times by their child’s behavior. As a former Connections Academy virtual school counselor, parents often shared concerns with me about the personality changes they were seeing in their child. Most of the time, those changes were a normal part of development.  

However, there were times when the types of behavior change pointed to other causes, some of which required additional support. Whether you are a parent or an educator, these tips can help you identify and handle four common child behavior issues. 

Is Your Child’s Behavior Suddenly Different?

Think about your child’s daily behavior and general outlook. Is the type of behavior change completely out of the ordinary for your child? Being aware of the temperament and mood that is typical for your child is important, since slight variations of that could be normal for them.  

1. Is It Bad Child Behavior or Just Temperament?

So much of child behavior comes from our temperament, i.e., the way that we react to the world. Our temperament or “nature” is due mostly to the personality traits we are born with, but can be shaped by our family, culture, and experiences.  

For instance, some Connections Academy virtual school students are quiet and serious, and may be more reserved or reluctant when it comes to participation in the virtual classroom and in communicating with teachers. Others are outgoing and adventurous, such as those who enjoy a chance to turn on the webcam or speak up during online lessons.  

If your child tends to be more cautious or even negative by nature, it would not be reasonable to expect them to adapt quickly to new situations such as moving to a new city or enrolling in a new school. More cautious children and teens benefit from additional reassurance, careful planning, and learning as much as possible about the situation beforehand.  

Depending on temperament, most of us tend to have a general quality of mood that falls somewhere between being positive and negative. Your child probably has a positive outlook if they are enthusiastic, light-hearted, and easy to get along with. Those who are more cautious, analytical, and less expressive, may be naturally more pessimistic and have more negative moods.  

Whatever your child’s temperament and general mood, it is important to accept and celebrate them for who they are while still being able to identify any potential issues.  

2. Signs of Puberty

It could be that the type of behavior change your child is experiencing is due to all the physical and emotional changes that happen during puberty. Puberty can happen at any time from age 9–14 and it is common for adolescents to feel self-conscious and for emotional responses to be a little more exaggerated. Don’t be surprised to see several different emotions in one conversation! 

Puberty is a developmental stage where your child: 

  • Tests boundaries in relationships 
  • Discovers different interests 
  • Develops independence 
  • Explores their identity and values 

Your child may develop new friendships and could seem to be more withdrawn than usual. They may also lose interest in academics and develop more interest in hobbies or relationships.  

There is a lot going on emotionally in addition to the physical changes that are taking place. It makes sense there will be days when your child will be more difficult to get along with, and it will be even more important to make consistent efforts to communicate with them.  

How to Deal with Puberty

Some helpful strategies for navigating the adolescent/teen years include: 

  • Educate yourself on adolescent/teen development. 
  • Be clear about your expectations. 
  • Consistently enforce rules. 
  • Pick your battles. 
  • Research ways to communicate with your child, like how to have difficult conversations with them. (link to CA article: 6 Steps on How to Have Difficult Conversations with Your Child)  

3. Stressful Life Events

You may see personality changes if your child has experienced stressful or traumatic life events. All of us react to stressful life events in different ways. Some types of behavior change under this form of traumatic stress include: 

  • A temporary decline in grades at school 
  • Having trouble sleeping 
  • Reacting more emotionally  

The symptoms you see in your child could vary. Examples of stressful or traumatic life events include: 

  • Divorce 
  • Loss of friendship/relationship 
  • Death of a loved one 
  • Attending a new school 
  • Battling a serious illness 

How do you help your child handle stressful life events? Reach out to your child’s school counselor for support and guidance in these situations. However, if at any time you feel your child’s personal safety is at immediate risk due to mental health concerns, call 911 to seek immediate assistance.  

4. Mental Health Issues

Some children’s behavioral changes could indicate a potential mental health issue. Half of all mental health disorders begin by age 14, and one in six U.S. children have a treatable mental illness.  

Signs Your Child May Have a Mental Health Struggle

One or two symptoms alone doesn’t necessarily mean that your child has a mental illness, but it could indicate a need for more evaluation. For instance, if your child suddenly has difficulty sleeping and is more irritable than usual, they may be experiencing anxiety. However, the issue could also be that they are consuming too much caffeine before bedtime, which is impacting their sleep and making them irritable.  

If your child is experiencing several of the following symptoms and they are having trouble studying or relating to others, further evaluation from a mental health professional may be necessary. You might want to reach out to your family doctor or pediatrician to discuss any concerns. 

How Online School Can Help with Your Child’s Behavior

K–12 online school offers unique benefits for child behavior problems and solutions. For over 20 years, parents of virtual school students have had the unique opportunity to observe their child’s behavior daily while they learn from home. Their expertise when it comes to their children can be helpful when identifying types of behavior change that could be concerning.  

Be sure to reach out to your school counselor or family doctor should you have any concerns that do not require immediate intervention. Should you feel your child’s safety is risk, be sure to reach out to emergency services in your area or call 911.  

Biography: 


Karen Muston is a school counseling consultant for Pearson Virtual Schools, where she provides support and guidance for virtual school counselors across the nation. With over 18 years of experience in education, and over nine years of experience as a virtual school counselor, her position allows her to pursue a lifelong passion for helping others to recognize and reach their potential as they explore endless possibilities for success. Karen’s experiences as a high school English teacher, virtual school counselor, professional speaker/trainer, and a parent of two grown children, have helped fuel her desire to partner with students and their families as they navigate through life challenges. 

She has a B.S. in English and psychology, an M.S. in psychology and counseling, a teaching certification in English, and is a certified school counselor. Additionally, she is a certified AFSP (American Federation for Suicide Prevention) suicide bereavement group facilitator, a member of ASCA (American School Counselor Association), and has taken several solution-focused grief therapy workshops where she has gone on to train other counselors in these therapeutic practices and supplemental trainings.

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