By David Joel Miller.
Your child misbehaves.
The number one complaint that brings parents and children to most child mental health clinics is the complaint “my kid won’t behave, won’t mind, won’t do what I tell him to, or some variation of this theme. This is so common a complaint that I am tempted to tell a lot of families “Of course he won’t mind you, he is a child and you are his parent.” But that doesn’t solve the problem, and parents, most of the time, want their children to mind.
The occasional parent who could care less if their child behaved – well those parents come in too referred by the school, or the police. The symptom check list almost always includes things like, lies, steals, argues with adults, hits and so on. Usually the parent wants us to find a way to get their child to behave. Sometimes they include in the symptoms “does not listen to adults, does not pay attention to what he is doing.” This could be ADHD, sometimes it is, but most of the time, the truth be told, the child is ignoring the adult. So what do most parents do about this situation and what should they do?
Children rarely grow out of bad behavior.
Lots of parents with poorly behaved preschoolers take the obvious path and do nothing. Their thinking is that the child will grow out of bad behavior. They often do grow out of it – the question is which way do they grow? Uncorrected, undisciplined, (read this as untrained not as unpunished) they grow out of it by turning into something worse, bossy disrespectful kids who tell the parents what to do. Why is it the universal nature of things for so many kids to grow disrespectful as they get older?
On simple reason for this issue is that growth in and of its self creates conflict. The baby who can’t walk does not get into very many things, the toddler does. As children grow up they try out new things, sometimes parents like the things their child tries, but other times the child does something really dangerous or irritating. Now when the kid does something wrong there are a few ways this can go. The worst one is for the parent to do nothing, give the child the impression that whatever they do is OK with you and you could care less. If you don’t care about what your child does why should she?
Throughout the child’s life, maybe the parent’s also, the child always wants to do things they are not yet old enough or ready enough to do. Their urges are always way out in front of their skill level. Very young kids don’t get it when you tell them “don’t do that” you need to get up and make sure they stop doing that.
Your relationship with the child matters.
One important determinant of how well-behaved your child will be is how close you are to each other. In technical terms we call this attachment. The time to start being close to your children is when they are very young. If you have a close relationship with your infant or toddler they are much more likely to want to obey and please you when they get older. Don’t worry about spoiling your child. Just because you show love and caring will not make your child spoiled. The better the parent child relationship is the easier discipline will be.
Even if you and your child did not attach as closely as you might now wish don’t give up. One way to improve the parent child bond is to play with your children. Some parents got the idea that playing was a time waster that only children got to do. That is wrong. Some form of play and fun is good for humans regardless of the age. Play is valuable, especially playing games with rules because it teaches the child the ability to learn rules. Rules change from game to game and they also change depending on where you are and your role in life. Kids who are good at learning new games appear to be good at learning to adapt to new situations.
Separating is natural.
Most kids will go through periods when they push parents away. Sometimes they need to define who they are as a person separate from their parents. Other times they feel the need to align with friends and reduce their involvement with the parents. Don’t let these episodes of pushing you away be an end to your relationship. Try to stay connected and watch for a time when your child shows an interest in reconnecting.
Now some children are more resistant to discipline than others. Sometimes the parents do everything they can, play with their child, work on good attachment, praise them for successes and still there are discipline problems. At that point parents turn to professionals and the professionals recommend some form of behavioral modification.
Many people misunderstand behavioral modification. They have only two tools, rewards and punishments. So there is a temptation for the rewards to turn into outright bribes. And the punishments get increasingly stringent, often to the point of abuse. Behavioral modification has lots of techniques beyond the stick and the carrot.
In future blog posts we will talk more about modifying behavior, your child’s and your own. I also want to talk some more about recovery and resiliency. This brings us right up to the current moment.
Soon it will be New Years and lots of people will be making resolutions. How do you make resolutions you will be able to keep? How do you avoid making impossible to keep resolutions? Before we can talk about changing our children we need to talk about how we change ourselves. How does that process of change work? Stay tuned for more on changing to have a happy, resilient life.
For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog there is also a Facebook authors page, in its infancy, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. Thanks to all who read this blog.
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