Monday, March 7, 2011

Is something wrong with my kid? How to deal with behavioral problems in kids.

How do I get my child to LISTEN? Why won't she do what I ask? Is he normal?  Many parents have the same fears and concerns. The good news is that most childhood behavior problems are not lasting.  And even better news is that parents can do some concrete things to help teach their child how to behave. This article is meant as a brief overview for parents to outline what options may be available for your child. For more detailed information, several websites provide information about issues and a licensed psychologist who specializes in behavior can be very helpful.

Over the last decade, the number of children diagnosed with attentional disorders, behavior disorders and autism spectrum disorders has skyrocketed, leaving many parents feeling afraid, frustrated and alone. In addition to this, the prescription of psychiatric medication to treat these disorder has risen over the last 20 years, and many parents have serious misgivings about using medication to manage behavior. It is true that some children truly benefit from the use of medication, for ADHD in particular, however this cannot be a replacement for a clear and consistent parenting approach.  The decision to use medication is a personal one, and I have several friends who wish to forgo the medication in favor of staying the course with behavioral and educational approaches.

As a psychologist and behavior specialist, I am often asked to give parents advice about how to deal with their unruly or troubled kids. Here are some practical tips for assessment and treatment. 

Children experience stress from many sources. These include academic performance, friendships, managing expectation from parents and teachers, and peer pressure. Stress, in general, can be a positive thing - it provides the motivation we need to get up when the alarm goes off, to study the spelling list for the quiz, and to play with other children appropriately. When stress becomes overwhelming, it can take its toll, causing hardship, behavioral problems, and emotional distress. Knowing what behavioral clues to look for can be half the battle. As a parent, things to watch for include:
  • crying
  • avoiding things he/she used to enjoy
  • fearful reactions
  • clingy behavior
  • irritability or moodiness
  • sleep problems
  • eating issues
  • complaining about or avoiding school
It's important to remember that kids all develop at their own pace and that all children (and adults for that matter) have a bad day from time to time. In addition, stressful events such as a move, divorce, additional of a sibling, or loss of a pet, can have an impact on kids.  It is perfectly normal for children to have high energy levels. Then when should you be concerned?
  • your child's behavior is disruptive
  • interrupts her interaction with other children
  • showing signs of social withdrawal
  • has difficulty focusing his attention
  • impulsive or aggressive behavior
If your child's behavior is not appropriate for his/her age, if it is a pattern of ongoing behavior, or it is interfering with his/her growth, education or development, it may be time to consult a professional. Medication is just one option that may be explored, and you should be sure educate yourself about possible benefits and side effects of any medication. The prescribing physician (preferably a child psychiatrist) will tell you the information about the drug and the ultimate decision is yours. If you choose to pass on the medication, other options are available. These may include:
  • behavioral treatment, which would be tailored for your child.
  • parent education
  • social skills training
  • family support services
  • in home services
 If you or someone you know needs help or is in trouble ASK A PSYCHOLOGIST!


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