The Causes of Abnormal Psychological Behavior in a Child

Some children display abnormal psychological behavior, which impairs their ability to function at home, school and in social settings. However, unlike adults, ascertaining what behavior is psychologically normal is difficult because children are impressionable and in a state of rapid cognitive and emotional growth. If your child is displaying abnormal psychological responses, however, seeking professional help and determining the cause can be a good first step in resolving these behaviors.

Chemical Imbalances

Some abnormal behaviors in children stem from chemical imbalances in the brain 2. For example, mania, depression, anxiety and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder often stem from chemical imbalances and can lead to abnormal psychological reactions, including hallucinations, delusions, poor impulse control, emotional reactivity and behavioral outbursts. Determining that your child’s abnormal psychological behavior stems from a chemical imbalance can be a lengthy process. Generally, your child will need psychiatric evaluations.

Brain Development

Developmental abnormalities in your child’s brain can lead to abnormal psychological behaviors. For example, children exposed to alcohol and drugs in utero might display impulsiveness, aggression or other psychologically abnormal responses to normal stressors. Likewise, children with organic brain issues, such as autism or pervasive developmental disorder, will struggle with social interactions and distress tolerance. Treatment of these organic issues is complex and often involves intensive individual psychotherapy and occupational therapy.


When children suffer from physical or sexual abuse, they often display abnormal psychological responses. Specifically, if you child has been physically abused, he might show aggression and hypervigilance. Likewise, they might shy away from touch. If your child has been sexually abused, she might display anxiety, developmentally inappropriate sexual behaviors, show self-consciousness about her physical appearance and be reluctant to participate in physical activities, according to the Help Guide website.

Neglect and Attachment Issues

If your children have lived in an inadequate home environment, this could account for abnormal psychological responses. For example, children who grow up in overcrowded homes or without adequate food and shelter might display anxiety, according to the Mayo Clinic. Similarly, children who are severely neglected at early ages, such as those who grow up in unhealthful orphanages, often show an abnormal aversion to human connection. If you adopted a child or have a child who spent the first months or years of his life without a significant connection to a caretaker, he might continue to show antisocial behaviors that can evolve into aggression. Likewise, if the child has changed caretakers multiple times or has lived in an unstable environment, he might show abnormal degrees of mistrust toward caregivers or adult authority figures.