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Diagnosing Young Children

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As you have learned this week, diagnosing psychiatric disorders in children is a tricky business. Mental health professionals must consider many factors when diagnosing, not the least of which is what might happen if a child were to be misdiagnosed.
1. What effect might misdiagnosis have on children lives?
One recent hot controversy in the field of child psychiatry/psychology is over the prevalence of Bipolar disorder in young children and teens. Trust me when I tell you that there are competent professionals on both side of the fence who feel very strongly about this issue.

Please click on the link below and carefully read the articles:

Obviously, something went wrong with the treatment of Rebecca Riley. Rather than focusing on this specific case, however, I’d like for us to discuss the larger issue related to the benefits and risks of diagnosing and treating young children with psychiatric disorders (e.g., ADHD, Conduct Disorder, Bipolar, Depression, etc…). Try to argue on both the “pro” and the “con” side.
2. Why should or should not we diagnose young children?
3. What age is “too young” to diagnose, or is there no age limit?
4. What are the cons of giving diagnoses too young to children?
5. What are the pros and cons of using psychiatric medication with young children?
Support your opinions with research, not just on “word of mouth” or personal experience.
300 Level Forum Grading Rubric

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In this lesson, we will look at how the great variations in children’s behaviors evolve. We will achieve this by looking at how morality develops, and the behavioral, cognitive and emotional aspects of morality. We will explore how prosocial and altruistic behaviors develop, and then how aggression develops in children, and how to alleviate it. Thereafter we will investigate developmental psychopathology. We will look at the three major categories of childhood disorders: undercontrolled disorders, overcontrolled disorders and pervasive developmental disorders.


Why do some children bully, lie and cheat, while others withdraw, and yet others excel and thrive? To understand why there is such a great variation in children’s behavior, we need to look at how children are socialized. Recall that the role of socialization is to impart desirable values onto children, which they internalize, so they can experience satisfaction when they abide by social rules, and discomfort when they do not. This personal standard of conduct can be referred to as morality.
Morality has three components that help us understand how aggression and altruism develop. The cognitive component of morality is the knowledge of what is good and bad, the emotional component is how individuals feel about situations and decisions they make, and the behavioral component of morality is how individuals behave.

Cognitive Aspects of Moral Development

Piaget and Kohlberg saw moral reasoning as a function of cognitive development.

Piaget (1932) proposed that children pass through three stage of moral development.




Kohlberg (1969, 1985) refined and expanded on Piaget’s theory, proposing that people go through six stages of moral development.







Check out this video on Kohlberg’s famous moral dilemma:

Now watch this video to see how different aged children reason:

Social Conventions

Social conventions include rules of etiquette such as table manners, forms of greeting and address, and dress codes. Studies have found that from a young age – around three years old – children can differentiate between morality and social conventions (Turiel, 2006). Cross-cultural studies have shown that from the age of three, children consistently see moral violations as harming others, and social convention violations as disruptive or impolite; furthermore, social conventions are seen as relative while moral rules do not change across cultures (Helwig, 2006; Turiel, 2006; Wainryb, 2006).

Interestingly, teenagers generally agree that parents may regulate their moral behavior, but not social convention issues, such as their spending habits, dress code and friends (Smetana, 1995, 2005).

Behavioral Aspects of Moral Development





A child’s moral judgement is not always consistent with their moral behavior because behavior can be irrational and impulsive. As age increases, moral judgement and moral behavior becomes more consistent. Parents and other socializing agents can enhance children’s moral behavior by using democratic reasoning and explanation as a form of discipline, as well as discussions about people’s feelings (Hoffman, 2000; Parke, 1977; Walker, Hennig, & Krettenauer, 2000).

Emotional Aspects of Morality

When people believe that they have violated a moral code, they generally feel shame, guilt and remorse. Research has shown that females feel more guilt than males, which may be attributable to gender stereotypes in which females are expected to be more dependent, submissive and prosocial (Zahn-Waxler, 2000). Children who feel more guilt and shame also experience more fear and are inhibited. Children who do not experience guilt and shame are fearless and are not deterred from violating rules.


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