Disruptive Behaviour Problems: What Is Going On and How Can We Help?

Children with disruptive behaviour problems are typically described as irritable, angry, uncooperative, argumentative, delinquent, aggressive, and disobedient. They are often butting heads or in conflict with parents, teachers, family members, peers, and other authority members, which can take a real toll on family relationships, friendships, learning, and overall quality of life. They are often mislabeled as “trouble-makers” or “bad kids” who are frequently sent home from school, not invited to birthday parties, or kicked off sports teams.

Many people often do not see beyond the children’s difficult behaviours, and these exclusions affect them and can lead to additional mental health struggles like low self-worth. Although it is challenging not to focus on the problematic behaviours, when dealing with these children, it is key to understand that they have poor emotional and behavioural regulation and have developed maladaptive coping and problem-solving strategies. The good news is that despite their ongoing challenges, there are ways to improve their behaviour and prevent things from getting worse. 

What are Disruptive Behavioural Problems?

Although it is typical for all children to act-out, throw tantrums, and be oppositional and defiant from time-to-time, some children experience disruptive behaviour problems that are more than expected for their developmental age, gender, or culture. Some children with an ongoing pattern of behavioural issues may even be diagnosed with a behavioural disorder such as oppositional defiant disorder (ODD). The American Psychiatric Association defines ODD as a frequent and ongoing pattern of angry/irritable mood, argumentative/defiant behaviour, or vindictiveness (2013). Children with ODD often lose their temper, “dig in their heels” when asked to do something, blame others when they get into trouble, feel like they need to “get back” at someone when they have been wronged, or appear to be "lawyers-in-the-making" due to their constant arguing. Unfortunately, excessive and persistent disruptive behavioural difficulties in children, especially those diagnosed with ODD, typically do not resolve on their own nor are they “just a phase”. Rather, these children are at-risk for negative outcomes later in life such as anxiety and depressive disorders, violence, substance abuse, unemployment, and delinquency.

ODD also often precedes the more serious diagnosis of conduct disorder which includes symptoms such as physical aggression towards animals and people, destruction of property, and a pattern of deceit (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). Furthermore, not only do these behavioural challenges create and predict negative outcomes for the children themselves, but they also create significant ongoing stress for others within the child’s life and have negative economic impacts on society (Child Development Institute, 2016). Therefore, it very important to provide support and treatment to these children and their families as soon as possible. This can help to reduce future negative outcomes and encourage more positive outcomes. 

There is Help

Fortunately, there have been many treatment approaches developed to help children better regulate their emotions, control their behaviour and learn more adaptive coping and problem-solving strategies. And research shows that these treatments can be effective in reducing behaviour challenges and preventing long-term negative impacts, especially when addressed early.

One such treatment approach for behavioural issues is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). CBT interventions typically focus on reducing disruptive behaviours, empowering children to problem solve, and use more appropriate and adaptive strategies. Children learn how their thoughts and feelings affect their actions and behaviour. They learn to be in control of their actions, challenge unhelpful thoughts, soothe their own emotions, and learn strategies to better deal with problems. Involving parents and caregivers to learn the best-practices of supporting children with behavioural issues has also been shown to help children with these challenges. (Dumas, 1989; Sukhodolsky et al., 2016). 


At KIDTHINK, we are excited to be the first in Manitoba to offer the evidence-based mental health program SNAP to help children ages 6-11 who are experiencing disruptive behaviour difficulties, as well as their families. SNAP, which stands for Stop Now And Plan, was developed by the Child Development Institute and is an award-winning, internationally recognized program. SNAP uses a CBT-theoretical model with parental involvement and is gender-sensitive. Over 13 weeks, the program teaches children with behavioural issues, and their parents, effective emotional regulation, self-control, and problem-solving skills using a structured and strength-based approach.

In studies, SNAP has been shown to have many positive outcomes for children including reducing aggressive, rule-breaking, and conduct behaviour and increasing prosocial communication and emotional regulation skills. Many long-term outcomes have also been shown, such as less school dropout, less involvement in criminal activities, more positive relationships, and fewer mental health disorders (Augimeri, Farrington, Koegle, et al., 2007; Burke & Loeber, 2015, 2016). Additionally, parents report positive benefits such as feeling more confident in their parenting, having peer supports and connecting more with their families (Lipman et al., 2011). SNAP helps children and their families grow and learn together to build a healthier and happier family life. 

We hope to run one 10-11-year-old boy’s group and one 10-11-year-old girl’s group, with accompanying caregiver/parent groups, in early 2021.  Due to generous funders, these groups will be offered free-of-charge. We also have the ability to provide the SNAP program virtually should that be needed for health and safety reasons. If you think you and your family could benefit from SNAP, please contact KIDTHINK to learn more and to self-refer.  Intake assessments, to see if this program is the right for your family, will be completed this fall.  Space is limited. 


To learn more about SNAP, please go to their website https://childdevelop.ca/snap/ 


Written by Megan Hebert, Ph.D., R. Psych. (AB)


Thank you for supporting the SNAP program in Manitoba


  • 70% of mental health problems have their onset in childhood or adolescence (Government of Canada, 2006). 

There Is Hope The good news is that mental illness can be treated effectively. There are things that can be done to prevent mental illness and its impact and help improve the lives of children experiencing mental health concerns. Early intervention is best. 

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American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author. 

Augimeri, L.K., Fariington, D.P., Koegl, C.J., & Day, D.M. (2007) The under 12 outreach project: Effects of a community-based program for children with conduct problems. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 16, 799-807. Published Online, January 10, 2007. DOI: 10.1007/s10826-006-9126-x

Burke, J., & Loeber, R. (2015). The effectiveness of the Stop Now and Plan (SNAP) Program for boys at risk for violence and delinquency. Prevention Science, 16 (2): 242-253. DOI 10.1007/311121-014-0490-2

Burke, J., & Loeber, R. (2016). Mechanisms of behavioral and affective treatment outcomes in a cognitive behavioral intervention for boys. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 44(1): 179-189. DOI: 10.1007/s10802-015-9975-0

Chartier, M., Brownell, M., MacWilliam, L., Valdivia, J., Nie, Y., et al. (2016). The mental health of Manitoba’s children. Winnipeg, MB. Manitoba for Health Policy. 

Child Development Institute. (2016). About SNAP. Retrieved from https://childdevelop.ca/snap/about-snap

Dumas, J. E. (1989). Treating antisocial behaviour in children: Child and family approaches. Clinical Psychology Review, 9. DOI: 10.1016/0272-7358(89)90028-7

Government of Canada. (2006). The human face of mental health and mental illness in Canada. Minister of Public Works and Government Services CanadaRetrieved from https://cpa.ca/docs/File/Practice/human_face_e.pdf 

Lipman, E. L., Kenny, M., Brennan, E., O’Grady, S., & Augimeri, L. (2011). Helping boys at-risk of criminal activity: Qualitative results of a multicomponent intervention. BMC Public Health, 11, 364. DOI:  10.1186/1471-2458-11-364

Sukhodolsky, D. G., Smith, S. D., McCauley, S. A., Ibrahim, K., & Piasecka, J. B. (2016). Behavioral interventions for anger, irritability, and aggression in children and adolescents. Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology, 26(1), 58–64. DOI: 10.1089/cap.2015.0120


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