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Dealing with Difficult Behavior in Children

WHY IS THIS? Here’s an excellent and insightful email response to the April newsletter:  
From your last newsletter, it sounds like, in cases like this, there’s no remedy to solve the problems of oppositional children. (It leads one to believe that) defiance is just basic human instinct, to give a negative charge to what the other person wants the outcome to be.
I believe that, in milder forms of defiant behavior, this can be exactly the case. This is especially true in good kids who pull their load at school, make decent grades, have friends and, in general, function pretty well. There are dispositional traits to defiance that might make a youngster a prime candidate for the debate team … even a winning debater. They are geared to take issue with just about everything, and once in awhile they’re even right.
Problems surface when a youngster’s behaviors create short and long-term serious damage, especially to self. (In fact, the DSM diagnosis of ODD notes this.) Failure in school, alienation of friends and relationships, self-medication with drugs, alcohol and sex (and other self-effacing behaviors) and progression into full-blown mental illness are unacceptable to anyone who cares about this child or adolescent. “Remedy” is a pretty strong word for mental health professionals, but here’s how I would encourage parents to approach the behaviors of a child that are more than just a “difficult phase:”
1. Don’t throw gasoline on the fire. Too often, the energy of our response to inappropriate behavior further “feeds” what we don’t want. It can tell the youngster just exactly how effective the rotten behavior was (especially when it’s written all over our face).
2. Discern, if you can, the child’s “self” message. Some kids beat themselves up with their behaviors because they see themselves as “bad” or unacceptable in some way. These youngsters usually have difficulty with peers, also. Even when they desperately want a friend, they’re apt to destroy the relationship. Young children keep peers at a distance (because they can’t handle them up close) with behaviors that don’t make much sense, but they work. Older kids are a bit more sophisticated in the behaviors, but the message is the same: “Don’t get too close, because you won’t like what you’ll find.” (My 72-page e-book, Improving a Child’s Self-Esteem, has a five-part evaluation for assessing components of self-concept, along with suggestions for addressing areas of concern. This guide is not a panacea, but it does offer real help, especially with younger children. For more information on it, CLICK HERE.)
Haim Ginot in his marvelous classic, Between Parent and Child, tells the story of a parent taking a three-year-old to a day-care facility for the first time. The boy looks around the room and shouts, “Who drew all these ugly pictures?” The parent, aghast at the lad’s behavior, started to correct him. The day-care director immediately intervened, saying to the boy, “Here you’re allowed to draw pictures however you want to.” She had correctly interpreted and addressed the boy’s “self” message: “What happens around here to a kid who doesn’t draw very well?”
3. Work on the “self” message as much as you work on behaviors: Cognitive Behavior Therapy, one popular intervention,operateson a simple premise: “Our core beliefs are displayed in our behavior.” As core beliefs change, so does behavior, although the textbooks fail to mention that it’s more difficult to put into practice what’s simple to put into a paragraph. (This is precisely why I’m not a big proponent of behavior modification and the use of rewards to change behavior. These measures have their merit, but they don’t address core beliefs much at all.)  
Although professional help might be in order, I don’t believe parents are powerless to create lasting and positive change. We will continue to address this issue in future (free) installments of the ODD Management Digest.

May 14, 2009 Posted by | adversity, Counselors, family, Parents | , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments