Kids Love Dr. Barton

When Kids Just Won't Listen

by Dr. Douglas Barton, M.D., Pediatrician 03/26/2009

I was talking with a colleague of mine the other day and, as usual, the conversation turned to our children and their challenging behavior. I continue to be surprised by how often behavioral issues come up in both the office and in general conversation. Behavioral challenges so often tip the balance in our “balancing act.” So how do you restore that balance in your home?

On the surface, behavior problems seem to come in a wide variety of forms. You would think that the behavior of your tantrum-throwing two-year-old would be different from the issues your friend is having with her teenager…but maybe they aren’t so different. When you think about the basic underlying problems (for example, temper tantrums, talking back, defiance, opposition, pouting, etc.), they really aren’t all that different between different ages.

The good news for you is that these problems are common to all children in all families. All children are trying to “grow up.” They are trying to be in control of their own choices and actions. They want to know what it’s like to be independent. And our natural instinct, as parents, is to question their readiness to do so. On the other hand, if you can recognize these “behavior problems” as simply limit-testing and attempts to make some independent choices, it’s easier to step back, defuse the situation, and still allow your child some measure of autonomy appropriate for their age. There are literally hundreds of books in the local bookstore that address these kinds of problems using behavioral management techniques. Any of these resources are a good starting point for most families with basic behavioral struggles.

So when do you look for professional help? The most important time to seek such help is when circumstances in the home have escalated to the point at which you, as a parent, have lost the ability to keep your calm. When you respond to your child regularly with frustration, tears, anger or violence, it’s time to seek a counselor who can help you respond in ways that will build up relationships rather than destroying them.

Certain symptoms strongly suggest a medical problem rather than a basic behavior problem. Pervasive apathy or sadness might suggest depression. Always being angry and constantly ignoring rules no matter what setting your child is in might suggest oppositional-defiant disorder or bipolar disease. Inability to stay with any task other than watching TV or playing video games might indicate attention deficit problems. A final red flag would be any behaviors in your child that you can’t talk about with friends at all because you’re afraid they’d never believe you. Any of these types of problems should push you toward seeking medical or psychiatric assistance.

The good news is that behavioral challenges are something that almost parent has to deal with at some point. You are not alone.  The better news is that there are a wide variety of resources available to help you understand the problems, from books and magazines to professional help. The best news is that, in spite of us, most of our kids will turn out just fine.




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