How to recognise emotional difficulties in children

Children can find a range of ways of letting adults know that something doesn’t feel right for them. Mental health professionals look for a range of ‘symptoms’ which broadly fall into two groups; positive and negative symptoms. A positive symptom is a more outward behaviour, such as anger aggression, loud disruptive behaviour, challenging behaviour etc. Research suggests that positive symptoms are over-represented in boys. A negative symptom is more like the absence of more normal behaviour, such as being overly quiet, withdrawn, uncommunicative, anxious, depressed, not mixing with friends, not eating, and so on. Research indicates that negative symptoms are over-represented in girls.

Any unusual behaviour that lasts more than a couple of days or very unusual behaviour should be taken seriously. Children have limited resources with which to communicate distress or confusion, and will often chose means that do not make sense to the adults around them. This is especially so for primary school children who often do not have the language or skills to communicate more complex experiences or feelings.