Caring for Antisocial Children

Antisocial Behavior in Toddlers

Identifying Risk Factors

According to the Encyclopedia of Children's Health, your child is at higher risk for developing antisocial behavior in the event of a family history of antisocial or aggressive behavior, if his home life is unstable, if some type of major disruption in his life has occurred such as divorce or death, or if either parent has psychiatric disorders, including maternal depression.


While antisocial behavior isn't diagnosed until a child is at least age 3 or 4, toddlers can display concerning behaviors that would eventually lead to this diagnosis. The Center for Effective Collaboration and Practice lists some of these behaviors as showing aggression toward parents, siblings and peers, excessive tantrum-throwing, and a tendency toward destructiveness and defiance. Young children with antisocial behaviors are at increased risk of delinquent behavior such as dropping out of school and abusing drugs and alcohol during adolescence.


If you notice your toddler repeatedly engaging in those antisocial behaviors, call your doctor. Early intervention -- even during the toddler and preschool years -- is key to a successful outcome. The Encyclopedia of Children's Health warns that if children with antisocial behavior are left untreated until age 8, they are more likely to continue displaying this behavior throughout their lifetimes.


Your doctor can give you added insight and tips on resources to help you handle your toddler's behavior before it leads to anything worse. He can also refer you to a counselor or child psychologist. These experts will work with you and your little one to help you facilitate healthful and age-appropriate ways for him to express his anger and frustration without harming people or property. They might also help you restructure your family dynamic in a way that benefits your toddler and put you in contact with resources in the form of parent-support groups.

Behavioral Intervention for Antisocial Behaviors in Children

Social Skills

In some cases, poor social skills play a significant role in the development of antisocial behavior among some children, states Candy Lawson, Ph.D, in an article from the Center for Development and Learning. Therefore, teaching such children social skills like self-control, communication and problem solving can be an effective behavioral intervention strategy. Parents and teachers can teach children social skills using books, modeling, role playing and by pairing them with socially skilled children in cooperative play, according to Dr. Lawson.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy integrates various therapeutic approaches when intervening in antisocial behavior in affected children as well as alleviates family practices that may lead to antisocial behavior, reports Child Welfare Information Gateway. The main aim of cognitive-behavioral therapy is to modify a child’s views and their regular response to various situations, according to Child Welfare Information Gateway. This approach is effective in reducing child anxiety and teaches approaches that inculcate positive behavior in children.

Functional Family Therapy

Functional family therapy is a brief evidence-based therapeutic approach that focuses on changing the behavioral patterns in families of children with antisocial behavior. This approach works on the premises of systems theory to improve interaction, communication and problem-solving skills in families of children with antisocial behavior, reports professor Alan Kazdin, Ph.D., on The approach also works by decreasing negative behavior patterns in the child and other members of the family.

Interpersonal Psychotherapy

Interpersonal psychotherapy focuses on alleviating symptoms of depression and improving an a child’s interpersonal functioning, according to an article by Dr. Virginia Schmeid and Lucy Tully at New South Wales Community Services. This approach targets children who had poor attachments early in life. This is because children who had secure attachments early in life are more likely to have good mental health and ability to adapt to stress, according to Dr. Schmeid and Dr. Tully.

Psychiatric Help for Teens

Outpatient Therapy

Outpatient therapy is the treatment of choice for most mild to moderate mental-health difficulties. Therapists typically have a bachelor's or master's degree and are trained in a variety of therapeutic techniques. Some therapists focus primarily on teens, while others treat a range of ages. Each therapist has his own school of thought and approach to therapy, so encourage your teen to interview several therapists to find a good fit. Depending on your child’s diagnosis and progress, therapy sessions can be as frequent as several times per week or as infrequent as once per month. Each session typically lasts one hour.

Psychotropic Medications

Medications are available to treat a range of psychiatric conditions from depression to schizophrenia. Some people get prescriptions from their family doctor, while others see a psychiatrist for medication management. Medications usually are prescribed in conjunction with therapy, at least for the first few months. Some psychotropic medicines carry special risks in children and teens, so research possible medications thoroughly to make an informed decision on their suitability for your teen.

Residential Treatment Options

If your teen needs intensive treatment, a residential program might be the best choice. Today, most inpatient admissions are voluntary, but teens who are an active threat to themselves or others might be involuntarily admitted for a short time. Some residential programs are in open facilities, where parents can pick up children for visits at any time. Others are in tightly locked secure buildings with limited visitation hours. Partial hospitalization programs provide the intensive services of a residential program, but teens go home each night. Transitional facilities help teens with psychiatric illnesses learn to live on their own. The goal of all residential treatment programs is to stabilize clients and allow them to return home as quickly as possible.

Family Support

Regardless of the treatment option you choose, parental involvement is a key component in teen recovery. Your child’s therapist might ask you to attend individual or family therapy sessions. Your child might be assigned to a case manager who will coordinate support services within the community, and you will be responsible for following up with those services. If your child is hospitalized, show your support by visiting and talking on the phone, but follow the facility’s guidelines and recommendations.