Mental Health Concern or Emotional Immaturity?

Mental Health Concern or Emotional Immaturity

When searching for solutions to a child’s misbehavior or emotional concerns, we have to ask whether the behavior is related to an underlying mental illness, is it a maturity issue, or both. We need to understand that emotional development occurs in stages, what disrupts the natural development process, and what we might observe if a child is not moving through developmental stages appropriately.

Psychologist Erik Erickson talked about the importance of successfully moving through each stage of psychosocial development to mature to the next stage. What happens when someone doesn’t successfully pass from one stage to the next? What would one see? For example, if an infant does not successfully learn to trust that the world is safe in the first stage of “trust versus mistrust,” they may not trust that others will care for them or meet their needs. The infant then may stay in a stage of self-protection and survival, and it will be difficult for them to move to the next stage of learning healthy autonomy.

Dr. Foster Cline, M.D., looked at how our conscience is developed (i.e. our sense of right and wrong). In his stages of Conscience Development, children develop a conscience through consistent discipline and consequences, positive role-modeling, and a secure attachment to a parent/caregiver in their life. It is important to note that consequences are in place to help develop cause-and-effect thinking. At the same time, the child needs to feel support, acceptance, and love from the caregiver. This bond helps facilitate taking on the caregiver’s values and morals.

How is Typical Development Impacted?

Many things can impact typical development, for example, exposure to traumatic events such as domestic violence, abuse, or neglect. Other things that influence a child’s development may include separation from a primary caregiver, poor parenting skills, lack of healthy boundaries, and poor role modeling. Or when a child has too much screen time and limited exposure to social interactions.

What are signs that a Child’s Behavior might be related to Lack Emotional Maturity?

We might see withdrawal, non-discriminate affection, immature social skills, poor emotional regulation, difficulty with starting and finishing tasks, misbehavior, increased sexualized behavior, controlling one’s environment, self-harm, and drug and alcohol abuse.

To learn more, you can watch our podcast, Mental Health Concern or Emotional Immaturity. Take a live course  or an on demand course  or purchase our book “Healing Discipline: Bringing Hope to Shattered Lives, A Guide for Educators.”We are also happy to discuss any questions or concerns you might have via phone or email.  You can contact us at 1-888-311-1883 or email us at

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