Questions About Behavioral Problems

1. What are behavioral problems?

2. At what point should we take action?

3. Is it the parents' fault that the child has behavioral problems?


1. What are behavioral problems?

Serious behavioral problems in pre-school and primary school  aged children are often characterised by:

  • Frequent fights with adults
  • Frequent tantrums
  • Oppositional attitude to adults or refusing to comply with directions from adults
  • Intentionally disturbing others
  • Breaking rules and being unable to adapt to peers
  • Being aggressive towards others; hostile and vengeful
  • Putting the blame for their own mistakes on others
  • Lying and stealing
  • Lacking social skills


Older children/youth with behavioral problems often exhibit other characteristics, such as truancy, stealing, vandalism, violence and substance abuse.

For the term ‘behavioral problems’ to apply, negative interaction patterns between child and parents should have been present for at least half a year.



 2. At what point should we take action?

All children are sometimes in opposition to adults without this being a serious behavioral problem.

The "70% rule" is often used:  If a child behaves appropriately and does what she or he is told 70% of the time, then this is categorized as normal. Children with serious behavioral problems often do not behave appropriately more than 0-20% of the time.

Children who receive PMTO treatment display various degrees of behavioral problems. Many also have a diagnosis, often either oppositional defiant disorder or a severe behavioral disorder.

However, families may have much to gain from PMTO even if the child does not have a diagnosis or very severe problems. If a child exhibits several of the characteristics below, parents may find PMTO helpful:

  • The child easily gets into conflicts with adults and other children.
  • The child often refuses to do what she or he is told to do by adults.
  • The child is often defiant.
  • The child exhibits little willingness to adapt to others.
  • The child finds it difficult to adapt to the play of his or her peers.


Many children who will develop behavioral problems can be identified as early as the age of three. Some children show behavioral problems only for a period, but the earlier the problem behavior occurs, the greater the probability that the child will develop serious behavioral problems. However, younger children respond faster to treatment, and it is therefore very important to identify behavioral problems at an early age and respond with an appropriate treatment. This can prevent the child from developing in a negative way.



3. Is it the parents' fault that the child has behavioral problems?

The reasons for why children develop behavioral problems are complex.

PMTO treatment does not focus on who is to blame for things having "become what they are". The focus is on solutions and on achieving a positive change in the interaction between parents and children.

In many cases, adults and children have  become deadlocked in a negative pattern of interaction that they cannot  break on their own. In cases where parents and children are stuck in a negative rut, however, it is important that they receive help.

The changes must start by the parents changing the way they interact with their child.

PMTO treatment focuses on helping parents do this. Through changes in the pattern of interaction, the child's potential for development will be enhanced.


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