Is Your Child's Behavior Crossing The Line?

Is it simply a bout of the blues or severe depression? Is it just a temper tantrum or a serious behavior problem? For parents, the line between growing pains and a serious mental disorder is often fuzzy. Here's how to recognize when your child has crossed the line.

A walk in the park is not how Marykaye Henline describes life with son Christopher. Despite friends reminding her that all boys are a handful, she knew something was wrong.

At age 5, Marykaye took Christopher to get professional help. Starting at 4 months old, he refused to sleep alone. In preschool, he defied teachers and beat up classmates. Christopher demands constant attention. When he doesn't get it, he throws up.

"He went after a babysitter with a knife one time," Marykaye tells Ivanhoe. "He repeatedly has dreams that he'll tell you are very vivid about dismembering family members."

What’s Wrong with my Child? (Part 1 of 3): Crossing the LineChristopher has a severe case of conduct disorder, according to educational psychologist Bunni Tobias, Ph.D.

"The belief systems -- the thinking -- are absolutely irrational. When they say, 'I'm going to kill you,' they have a plan," Tobias, who is known as Dr. Bunni, tells Ivanhoe.

What’s Wrong with my Child? (Part 1 of 3): Crossing the LineAccording to her, a kid who’s simply acting out, acts first. Thinks later. He crosses the line when behavior becomes calculated and pre-meditated. He’s deceitful and vindictive. He kicks, bites, and punches to get his way. Tantrums range from 30 minutes to four hours. He shows no remorse.

If the mood swings from extreme anger or sadness to extreme silliness, it could be bipolar disorder. Psychiatrist Demitri Papolos, M.D., says symptoms are often present at birth.

"[Warning signs can be seen in] bright-eyed babies of the nursery, oversensitive, over-reactive to sensory stimuli, easily aroused," says Dr. Papolos, of Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.

What’s Wrong with my Child? (Part 1 of 3): Crossing the LineWarning signs, however, aren’t always loud and angry like Christopher’s were. Naz Zareh was 16 when she went to Dr. Bunni for help. She was severely depressed.

"Yeah, yeah there was a lot of times when that happened and I did, I did give up, you know," says Naz. The signs were there by second grade -- class disruptions, bad grades, loss of friends.

Naz's father, Kali, says, "She would be so tired and frustrated she wouldn't want to deal with me or her sister even."

What’s Wrong with my Child? (Part 1 of 3): Crossing the LineKnowing what triggers an episode in kids with behavior disorders is key. Those triggers can include interruptions in routine, a poor diet, less than six hours of sleep, or an unstable home environment. The word “no” can also be a trigger.

Unconditional love from dad and therapy finally gave Naz her confidence back -- and her smile.

It's normal for kids to get angry, sad, or anxious. But doctors say if it is persistent and interrupts a child's normal activities, like sleeping, attending school, or making friends, it's time to get help.