Emotional Disturbances in Children: 5 Common Causes

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Every child is going to be a little impulsive, angry, obsessive, or defiant. Behavioral disorders are those that last at least six months, occur most days, and affect home, school, and other aspects of life. This will cover five common causes and risk factors for emotional disturbances.

Neurological Structure

Sometimes emotional disturbances occur because of the child's brain structure. For example, those with ADHD often have less activity in the areas of the brain that influence attention.

Brain chemistry can also influence behavior and mood. For example, children tend to be more aggressive if they naturally have low serotonin along with a sensitivity to cortisol.

While the cause might be the brain itself, it's important to note that there are medications and treatment options that can help.


Many people recognize trauma in terms of children who have unstable homes, need to fight often with their parents if there is domestic abuse, and those who experience harsh discipline. Trauma can also be any memory or event that sticks with the child and causes them distress.

Trauma can lead to avoidance behaviors, anger, nightmares, lashing out, and various other emotional disturbances. Places like Careers in Psychology can help those who want to learn how to become a child therapist but it's important to recognize the toll that trauma can take on a child's life.


This quickly becomes a nature or nurture discussion, but genetics and home environment can cause emotional disturbances. For example, if a family has many members who are depressed or anxious, then it's likely the new additions to the family will inherit these traits.

At the same time, children who see these traits may also mimic them. For example, it's common for a child to become anxious after observing anxious parents. While there's no guarantee, families with emotional disturbances have a high chance of passing on those traits.

Neglect and Lack of Attention

Children can be very needy and parents may sometimes push them away because they need some breathing room. While children might be resentful, they likely won't develop emotional disturbances.

Children who are routinely neglected, have unresponsive caregivers and need to fight to get basic resources have a higher chance of developing disorders. Not only are their basic needs not being met, but they learn that lashing out, screaming, and doing anything for attention is the way to survive.

Social Withdrawal

Some children are naturally shy and have a hard time connecting with other children. Others are completely withdrawn, won't talk to other children, keep away from parents and refuse social interaction of any kind. 

This can be a problem and can be indicative of depressive disorders, anxiety disorders, personality disorders, and much more. It all depends on the reason for the withdrawal.

Children need social interaction for their mental health. While some will naturally not prefer social interaction with many children, that's different from complete withdrawal.


These are just five common causes and risk factors to consider with childhood emotional disturbances. There are many other causes and each child is different, so what causes a pathological disturbance in one child may not bother another.

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