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Abnormal Child Behavior

by Shellie Braeuner, studioD

Children can do a lot of things that seem strange from an adult perspective. Most of these behaviors are harmless, but some are a cause for concern. Abnormal behavior in children can be found in several different areas of child behavior. Actions that don’t cause physical harm may be a sign of a deeper problem. According to Web MD, one out of every five children is diagnosed with some form of mental illness. Although the behaviors vary according to the disorder, parents need to take note of abnormal actions.


Tics are repetitive and involuntary actions that children may exhibit. They can occur in any part of the body. Tics may be as simple as a twitch along the edge of an eyelid or as complex as a jerk of an entire limb. Vocal tics can include sniffing or throat clearing. Transient tics occur when the child is stressed, tired or ill. These tics usually disappear without treatment. But other tics are more serious. Children who suffer from Tourette’s may have severe vocal tics that cause them to blurt inappropriate words.

Night Terrors

Most children have nightmares at one time or another. Nightmares occur at any time in the night. Children generally wake from them and are comforted by parents. Night Terrors are different. During a night terror, the child may sit up in bed, scream or cry, but remains completely unaware of the parent. She won’t respond to attempts at comfort. Night terrors usually occur during the first two or three hours of sleep. The occasional night terror isn’t a cause for concern. However, frequent and repetitive night terrors may indicate high stress or anxiety.


Many children have imaginary friends. Hallucinations go beyond play. During a child’s hallucination, he will fully believe that he is seeing or hearing a sight or sound that doesn’t exist. This is terrifying for parents to see. Many factors may cause hallucinations. There are several mental illnesses that cause hallucinations. There are also non-psychotic hallucinations. High fever may cause a child to hallucinate. Febrile hallucinations may be frightening. In addition, some medications may cause children to hallucinate.

What to Do

Anytime a child engages in abnormal behavior, parents should note the behavior. If the action is repetitive, keep a small journal noting the day, time and the child’s condition. Take this information with you when you talk to your pediatrician. Contact your doctor immediately if the child’s behavior threatens himself or any other member of the family.

About the Author

Based in Nashville, Shellie Braeuner has been writing articles since 1986 on topics including child rearing, entertainment, politics and home improvement. Her work has appeared in "The Tennessean" and "Borderlines" as well as a book from Simon & Schuster. Braeuner holds a Master of Education in developmental counseling from Vanderbilt University.

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