Growth & Development


All children engage in challenging behaviour from time to time which may or may not persist or be of concern. Behaviour is often a child’s way of communicating their wants and needs and in some cases may be their only method of communication. A child makes their needs known through observable actions. For example a child may indicate with gestures that they want a certain item or don’t want something they’ve been given, that they want more or less of your attention or that of a peer, that they don’t want to do a certain task or to go to a particular place, or that they don’t want to stop doing an activity that they are enjoying.

Behaviour is also a child’s way of telling their caregiver that he or she is in physical pain or discomfort, tired, hungry or ill.

Generally, a child demonstrates certain behaviour in the presence of certain people and not others, in specific situations or environments, and under some conditions while not in others.

When determining if a behaviour is of concern, it is important to keep in mind the context, the age and stage of the child, as well as to ascertain if there is an explanation for the behaviour.

When challenging behaviour happens many times each day, for long periods of time, or presents an immediate risk to the child or others it may require assessment and intervention from a professional.

If a child presents  any type of the following behaviours, consider this a red flag:


Self-Injurious Behaviour

Bites self, slaps self, grabs at self

Picks at skin, sucks excessively on skin/ bangs head on surfaces

Eats/ingests inedible items

 Vomiting (when not obvious illness)

Aggression towards others

Hits; kicks; scratches; bites; pulls hair; pushes; shoves

Cruelty to animals
Throws objects at a person

Property Distruction

Bangs, throws, slams, breaks objects

Sets fires

Difficulties with Social Behaviour

Unable to remain on task for specified length of time

Excessively energetic or physically over active

Restless; unable to sit still; continuously standing up, sitting down, or moving

Screams; cries excessively; swearing and/or verbal threats


Hoards; steals; lies

Has no friends; socially isolated; will not make eye or other contact; withdrawn

Anxious; fearful/extreme shyness; agitated

Sudden mood changes; laughing, crying and/or screaming for no obvious reason

Compulsive behaviour; obsessive thoughts; bizarre talk

Undresses in public

Touches self or others in inappropriate ways

Advanced/inappropriate knowledge/behaviour of a sexual nature for developmental age appropriateness

Flat affect, inappropriate emotions, unpredictable angry outbursts

Refusal to follow instructions; needs several verbal prompts to complete a task
Difficulty following multiple step instructions
Runs away

Resists any form of physical contact including when provided assistance

Life Skills

Deficits in age appropriate skills e.g. eating, toileting, dressing, play, etc.

Loss of skill previously mastered

Change in typical habits e.g. eating, sleeping, toileting, etc.14Difficulty managing transitions/routine changes

Often needs physical prompting to move or to do things; consistently tired or sleepy


Excessive tiredness e.g. yawning, falling asleep
Reports nightmares, frequent awakenings
Late/early bedtimes and awakenings

Repetitive behaviour (in excess, or in the absence of functional play skills)

Hand-flapping; hand wringing; rocking; swaying
Taps surfaces
Twirling; object manipulation i.e. lining up toys, spinning wheels, etc.


Limited or no means of communication through:

Verbal i.e. words

Augmentative or alternative communicative system e.g. Picture Exchange Communication System, American Sign Language, Proloquo2Go, etc.
Engages in any of the above behaviours in order to gain access to items or to avoid or leave a situation

If you identify any of the above Red Flags, please also refer to the following domains in this guide for other possible referrals:

  • Autism

  • Nutrition

  • Sleep

  • Speech and language



Having more general concerns about a child's development?

Having difficulty coping? Need some advice?

Services and Information related to Behavioral Development

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