Understanding and treating particular behavior difficulties is more important than labeling them


We live in a society with an excessive tendency to diagnosis and psychological labeling . Putting labels facilitates communication between professionals, but it also entails a series of inconveniences for the person and the social context in which they operate.

If we talk about children and adolescents, this situation is complicated, since they depend on the adults and educators that surround them.

Negative Effects of Labels

Some drawbacks of the labels we use to categorize the different attitudes and difficulties of boys and girls are:

  1. They do not provide useful information about the behavior or personality of the person, in most cases. There are always specific nuances that the label does not contemplate.
  2. They are usually used as generalizations about the person’s behavior, making other behaviors that would refute said label go unnoticed.
  3. They are often used as causal explanations for a person’s behavior. The behavior that the person performs is justified by the label, and the label is justified by the behavior of the person.
  4. They refer to behaviors (usually negative) that receive a great deal of social attention. What on many occasions can be counterproductive for the person, damaging their self-esteem and forming a negative self-concept.
  5. Often they make us focus more on the search for defects and errors in the person, rather than on their abilities, skills and resources.
  6. They are used as a cause of conduct disorder. That is, if a person has ADHD, the cause of her behavior will always be ADHD. This gives rise to the phenomenon called “self-fulfilling prophecy” and the perpetuation of the label. What we expect from that person, our expectations about his behavior, will end up being fulfilled and will be conditioned by said label.
  7. They contribute to generating, both in those who receive the label and in those around them, feelings of helplessness, fatalism and lack of responsibility. This situation negatively influences especially when intervening with that person. It will be more difficult to improve his behavior.
  8. They underestimate the possible contribution of the environment to the improvement of the problem, presenting themselves as an internal cause that determines the conduct disorder. This does not facilitate behavioral intervention in children and adolescents where the contribution of the environment in the intervention is so important.

The role of educators at home and at school

Educators (teachers, professors, mothers, fathers…) have a privileged position when it comes to discovering possible conduct disorders in childhood and adolescence. They spend many hours with the children and can detect behavior early, which often means preventing a more complex situation. This also makes it easier to avoid a potential upset.

Educators are also fantastic collaborators with the clinical child psychologist. Its role is decisive both in the evaluation phase and in the intervention phase.

Without them, the work of the psychologist is diminished by the difficulty of an evaluation and direct intervention with the child, since normally he or she is not the one requesting help, but rather their family or their teacher.

Therefore, educators have the possibility of collecting data and observing where the psychologist has difficult access. Children function in various contexts, family and school, and it is important to obtain information in each of them.

When is behavior normal?

The training of educators in content of an analytical-behavioral nature is important so that they know, for example, the characteristics of the most frequent conduct disorders in childhood and adolescence and know how to discriminate when a behavior, even if it is negative, is within normal, and when it is susceptible to specialized care because it may be a symptom of a disorder.

This is the way to detect possible future problems, even to prevent them. The behaviors of children and adolescents are in most cases the result of interaction with adults; if they know how to act, what things to do and what not, they can make a difference in the appearance or not of certain behaviors.

The most frequent disorders

The most frequent behavioral disorders in childhood and adolescence and the most important for educators are:

  1. Behavioral disorders of basic functions such as enuresis and encopresis (not controlling sphincters).
  2. Eating and sleeping disorders.
  3. Language disorders and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
  4. Conduct disorders, anxiety and depression.
  5. Obsessive-compulsive disorders and those related to trauma and stress factors.
  6. Cross-cutting issues such as sexual dysphoria and child abuse.

It is essential to make the educator aware that not all behaviors observed in the child have to be a problem or be susceptible to receiving a diagnostic label.

It is about the educator being properly trained, not to “overdiagnose” and see problems where there are none, but to be vigilant and detect any difficulty as soon as possible, and be able to be a prevention tool.

Author Bio: Rosario Ruiz Olivares is a Tenured Professor Area of ​​Personality, Evaluation and Psychological Treatment at the University of Córdoba