For Parents

Identifying behaviours of concern in children’s development

When making judgments about violence, it is advisable to understand the child’s developmental level – which includes the physical, cognitive, social and emotional development that occurs throughout a child’s life – and to know the expected behaviours and behaviours of concern, depending on age.

In what follows, we will provide a general introductory and overview of expected behaviours from early childhood through to late adolescence.

In addition, it is very important to remember that every child is different – they will grow, learn, mature and develop their skills at their own pace. This means that when working with a child, we need to fully assess and understand their unique, individual situation.

Children and young people of all ages are affected by violence. However, at different ages and stages of development, they may become more at risk.

The information in the graph below gives a simple and generalised overview of some of the behaviours we might observe in children. This information relates to:

  • Four different age categories.
  • Some expected developments/typical behaviours in relationships between children
  • Some signs of worrying behaviours and risks of violence

Developments and behaviours of children and young people by age group

  1. Early childhood (2-4)

Typical development and behaviours (Skills and behaviours we might expect to see installed in children in line with healthy development)

Learning to share;

Alternating roles;

Being kind to others;

Dealing with underlying frustrations and the emotions they cause;

Note: This happens mostly in the family, playgroup, nursery or pre-school environment

♣ Signs of worrying behaviours

Excessive aggression towards other children;

Extreme tantrums (screaming/crying) when they lose at games or when things “don’t work out”;

Non-participation/withdrawal/anxiety/anxious behaviour;

Fear of participating in group activities;

Note: This is the age at which behaviors that may seem “different” from other children their age may indicate “hidden” disabilities or other vulnerabilities, including safeguarding concerns, and therefore should be reported and explored by competent adults.

♣ Risk of violence between children (and young people)[1]

It is believed[2]that much of the violence against children at this age comes from carers rather than other children.

  1. Middle childhood (5-10 years)

Typical development and behaviours (Skills and behaviours we might expect to see installed in children in line with healthy development)

  • Friendship
  • Joining in group play
  • Teaching kindness and helping others – sharing and taking turns
  • Learning to work as a team – e.g. in school, in sports,
  • Dealing with conflict between children – e.g. learning conflict management skills and how to deal with rejection from other children
  • The beginning of gender pressures among children
  • Gaining confidence self esteem – they begin to learn more about who they are, what they look and their specific strengths, weakness and interests, whether it’s academical skills or sporting or creative abilities
  • Beginning to understand the boundaries
  • Start taking responsibility for their own behaviour
  • Understanding that doing the right thing is an active choice

Signs of worrying behaviours

  • Physically violent behaviour towards other children that hurts and negatively affect others
  • Discriminatory and often “extreme” statements are often a reflection of culture, family and socialization values at this stage
  • Increased using of vulgar language – e.g. swearing
  • Manipulative behaviours, such as targeting and approaching another children in quiet, secluded areas or forming a ‘group’ to do so

♣ Risk of violence between children (and young people)

  • As children grow older and enter school, they interact more with other children, which can increase their risk of experiencing emotional and physical abuse from other children. It is thought that violence between children is most likely to start around the age of 6[1].
  • It is estimated that by middle childhood period, 25-30% of girls and 50% of boys will have been experienced some form of physical violence[2]
  • Maladjustment, perhaps because of clothing, interests, familial context, household income and possession/ non-ownership (for example, possession of mobile phones and other personal equipment) is increasingly becoming a factor in whether someone is included or exclude from groups of children/friends with potentially increased vulnerability to child-on-child violence.
  • Levels of physical fitness, sporting skills and other social abilities may become more visible regarding the risk of exclusion from groups and therefore vulnerability to violence.
  • Academical abilities/disabilities, such as dyslexia or dyscalculia or other hidden disabilities, become more prominent can determine a child’s status/vulnerability in groups of children/school.
  1. Early adolescence (11-16 years)

Typical development and behaviours (Skills and behaviours we might expect to see installed in children in line with healthy development)

  • Early adolescence is a period of rapid physiological, social and emotional development. It is a period of hormonal development.
  • During this period, children acquire more life and decision-making skills and develop their sense of self;
  • Young people begin to see more independence and their personal decision-making skills will develop at a rapid pace. They begin to move away from their family to find out who and how they want to be and what group they want to fit into;
  • Other young people and pressure from them may play a greater role in determining life choices and what becomes important, such as personal style (clothes and hair etc.) and hobbies/interests;
  • It is a time when young people begin to become aware of their sexuality and gender orientation, which is part of the process of becoming aware of their sense of self and their own identity;
  • Academic pressure will increase and may cause stress, but will also provide options for future paths;
  • This is a time when social media and online activity can greatly influence self-esteem, life choices, interests and values;
  • It can be a time when family issues and challenges can impact on behaviour at school and in other settings.

Signs of worrying behaviours

  • Although this period repeats much of what is already begun in the primary years, violent and aggressive behaviour can escalate;
  • Extremely defiance for authorities, including teachers, care practitioners and parents.
  • Controlling others/ forcing others to do things against their will or blackmailing them.
  • Experimenting with alcohol or drugs without regard for the safety of other or their own safety, leading to abusive or sometimes dangerous behaviour.

Risk of violence between children (and young people)

  • At this age, adolescents become more independent and interact with more and different groups of people, so they are increasingly exposed to greater risks in wider community. For example, among children aged 13-15 bullying and engaging in physical fights at school become closely interrelated. The report[3] “Ending violence in childhood”[4] indicates that those who are bullied are likely to bully others, and those who bully others are also likely to be bullied.
  • Increased physical strength, especially for boys, makes some feel more encouraged to use their physical strength.
  • As children become more independent in their using internet and begin to use mobile phone, they become vulnerable to online violence in the form of cyberbullying, on web sites that promotes anorexia, suicide and sexual assault, sexting, pornography and grooming for sexual exploitation. They can also post sexual images of themselves or ask/allow other young to post them.
  • Opportunities tend to expand for boys and shrink for girls. Boy can be encouraged to be mor aggressive and dominant, including sexually. Instead, girls are correspondingly lacking of social mobility. They are more likely to be bullied with intention of ridiculing, humiliating or socially excluding them.
  • Teenagers begin to engage in romantic and sexual relationships. This has implications for both the violence committed and the status of victim. In studies of violence against children, the main perpetrators of sexual abuse against boys were their schoolmates, friends or neighbours. It has been estimated that 45-77% of sexual violence against girls was committed by romantic or intimate partner[5].
  1. Late adolescence (17-19 years)

Typical development and behaviours (Skills and behaviours we might expect to see installed in children in line with healthy development)

  • Major physical changes will have occurred by now, although the body is still developing;
  • The views of the youth groups tend to remain important, but as the youngers mature and begin to make more sense their identities and opinions, this influence may diminish;
  • Gender roles continue to become increasingly socialized/socially constructed and pressure builds to conform conventional notions of femininity and masculinity. Girls worlds may be shrinking more and more, while boys already be starting to assume their roles and privileges – and expectations of them – as men.

Signs of worrying behaviours

  • All the risks associated with middle adolescence may still be apply, but harmful risk-taking behaviour cand be accentuated and become excessive, for example, by experimenting with drugs. For younger men in particular, the risk of excessive alcohol consumption can lead to aggressive or criminal behaviours (gangs fights, theft, robbery etc)
  • Use of weapons, gang/gang induced violence;
  • Forcing other people to do what they want to do by aggresion;
  • Harmful sexual experimentation;

Risk of violence between children (and young people)

  • At this stage, girls’ and boys’ experiences tend to drift further apart. Girls experience some forms of violence more than boys, including intimate partner violence and sexual violence;
  • Influence and pressure to conform to gender roles is increasing and can lead to boys being encouraged or expected to become more dominant and aggressive, including sexually;
  • Some reports indicate that a high proportion of men committed rape for the first time in their teens[6];
  • Boys may be at greater risk of physical violence from peers, for example, being more exposed to youth and gang violence – even leading to greater exposure to homicide;
  • Girls continue to be at higher risk of being ridiculed or socially excluded by other young people.


[1] Ibid.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Foshee, V.A., et al. (2004). “Evaluation of the long-term effects of the Safe Dates program and a push to prevent and reduce victimization and violence in teen dating violence”. American Journal of Public Health 94 (4): pp.619-24.



[1] Childhood Violence Awareness (2017) Global Report on Ending Violence in Childhood 2017. Knowledge of Violence in Childhood. New Delhi, India

[2] Childhood Violence Awareness (2017) Global Report on Ending Violence in Childhood 2017. Knowledge of Violence in Childhood. New Delhi, India