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12 Tips to Help Your Kids Create Loving Relationships With One Another That Will Last a Lifetime

12 Tips to Help Your Kids Create Loving Relationships With One Another That Will Last a Lifetime

My parents have been married for over 40 years. They have six children together, and although all these children have grown up to be very different individuals, they have great bonds and friendships even into adulthood. My parents did so much to help facilitate love, respect, and positive relationships among all six of us.

I love my sibilings and I am grateful for them. My parents taught us to get along as kids, so that we could get along as adults and lean on one another during difficult times.

Now that I am raising three children with my husband I want my children to have the same type of bond that I developed with my own sibilings. Having a doctorate in psychology, I am always analyzing behavior according to what works and perhaps what doesn’t. I am committed to helping my children develop positive relationships with one another that will last a lifetime.

I recognize those relationship skills begin now and are learned in childhood. We can verbally teach our kids positive relationship skills, but we also model these skills through our own behaviors with others, especially with our spouse or partner. Below are my top 12 tips for facilitating loving relationships among siblings during childhood, so that these loving relationships will last a lifetime.

1. Teach your children the art of apologizing.

Teaching children to apologize and to do so effectively is a skill that can help them become successful adults. There are several components involved in a sincere apology. These components involve not making excuses, accepting their responsibility in the situation, voicing a sincere apology, and making the situation right again. Not making excuses means they don’t try to excuse their behavior or reaction.

For example, when a sibling hits another sibling and tries to justify their hit because their sibling stole their toy or hit them first, they are making excuses. They need to own their part of the conflict without excuses. This means verbalizing an apology that doesn’t have anything attached to it.

Inappropriate apology: “I am sorry I hit you, but you took my toys from my room.”

Appropriate apology: “I am sorry for hitting you.”

If there is a way the child can make the situation right, the parent can help point those things out. For example, if a child broke one of their sibling’s toys, then the child that broke the toy can apologize and also offer to use their allowance to pay to replace the broken toy. If they don’t offer, then it can simply be a part of their punishment, as a consequence for breaking the toy.

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A parent can even add to that punishment because the child refused to offer to compensate for the broken toy on their own free will. It’s all about consequences and making sure the child understands those consequences and how they got to where they are in the situation. It was because of the choices the child made.

2. Teach your children the art of forgiveness.

Research by Cohen shows that there are emotional and physical implications when someone chooses to not forgive. A noteworthy quote from this research article: “The emotional and physiological data suggest that a sustained pattern of unforgiveness over time could result in poorer health because of the negative psychophysiological states that accompany unforgiveness.” Teaching children how to appropriately forgive can help them live more emotionally and physically healthy.

Parents need to teach their children that forgiveness is an action. It starts with the words “I forgive you.” It’s OK to let the child know that hard feelings may still be there, but time will mend things if they have a heart of forgiveness. Having a heart of forgiveness means they give empathy toward the offender. It also makes the assumption that the offender is good and did not intend actual harm, because their actions were done out of heightened emotions or accidentally.

Forgiveness can be complicated sometimes, so simply teaching your children to say “I forgive you” and then hug one another is a step in the right direction. Saying “I don’t forgive you” should not be allowed among siblings. It will begin the process of harboring resentment and grudges and no good parent wants that for their children.

3. Have them help one another.

Having siblings help one another for the small things in life will hopefully lead to them helping one another with the big things in life when it really matters. They can help each other from early ages too. Siblings who are slightly older can help with some of the basic care of the younger ones, such as assisting parents with dressing, feeding, and cleaning younger siblings who need help doing those tasks. They can also do fun things for one another, such as read stories or sing songs to one another at bed time.

My daughter sings to her younger twin brothers at bedtime, and it is a sweet time that I hope they remember as adults. It is important that they see one another as helpers to each other or more importantly, they view their sibling relationship as a team working together.

Try to recognize the opportunities where they can help one another, as you want these positive interactions to outweigh the conflict that so inevitably happens between siblings. When parents take the time to create opportunities for positive interactions, such as though having siblings help one another through daily tasks, then the sibling bond becomes stronger and interactions becomes more positively focused.

4. Have them say “I love you” daily.

I once heard a Mom say “well, I don’t make my children say I love you to one another; I want them to do it on their own free will.” That sentiment is very nice; however we as parents, must teach our children how to behave and interact with one another. I would love for my children to voluntarily wake up every morning and make their bed on their own free will, but it isn’t going to happen.

We teach our children what is good and appropriate behavior. Teaching them to say “I love you” when appropriate, such as going off to school or going to bed at night, is showing them it’s good to verbalize affection toward one another. Doing this with your spouse is good modeling of this behavior as well. You want your child to be able to express love for others as adults, so help them do so with their siblings today.

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5. The expression of physical affection is taught.

Once again, physical affection, much like verbal affection is taught. There are some kids who would never hug if it wasn’t taught to them. Every child is different, but they need to see that physical affection such as hugging, holding hands, and other appropriate physical affection is good between siblings. In our home, when there is an apology that takes place, it is followed up with a hug.

Physical affection is very important because research by News in Health shows that physical affection such as hugs releases positive hormones called oxytocin. Some important information was noted in this article, something all parents should know: “One thing researchers can say with certainty is that physical contact affects oxytocin levels. Light says that the people who get lots of hugs and other warm contact at home tend to have the highest levels of oxytocin in the laboratory”.

Hugs and physical affection at home affects our level of oxytocin, which affects our levels of happiness. Kids need hugs and appropriate physical affection from Mom, Dad, and siblings.

6. Siblings need time together outside of their parents.

If parents are always facilitating the interactions between siblings and are always with siblings in order for them to interact together, then a bond between siblings outside of their parents cannot occur. Kids need time to play together and spend time together during the day outside of their parents.

If your schedule is too packed and the kids don’t have that time to spend together, it is at the detriment of their current and future relationship as siblings. Cut back on outside activities to ensure that siblings get time together to play, learn, and grow together. Preferably without a parent hovering over them in a manner which inhibits their natural interactions.

7. Don’t create a competitive atmosphere.

Don’t create a competitive atmosphere among siblings by comparing their abilities or pitting them against one another. Remember, you want them to get along together, as a team, not be against one another. Saying things like “why can’t you be more like Sally” or “clean your room like Johnny cleans his — why can’t you be like him?” Those sort of statements pit children against one another and make the children resentful of their siblings.

Instead, praise children for their individual abilities and skills. Try to keep the praise as equal as possible. I recognize that sometimes this is not easy and some days are better than others. It is important as a parent to TRY to make things fair and equal in regard to praise and affirmations.

You may not be able to praise them for the same things, and that is OK, as all children are different and are born with individual abilities and talents. Parents need to recognize the individual and at the same time — not compare them to their siblings. It only creates hard feelings between siblings when comparisons are made.

8. Model kindness and respect.

A parent sets the standard for how people are to treat one another in the home. Much of this is done through modeling, whether we like it or not. This is why it is so important for parents to treat one another with respect and kindness.

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This means being nice to one another by helping each other and speaking with kind tones and words on a regular basis. Kids are watching how you treat your spouse and others, so be a good example for them. If you are sarcastic and rude to your spouse, then don’t be surprised when your kids act that way to one another.

It is hard enough to teach good behavior. If our modeling undermines what we are teaching them verbally, then we are spinning our wheels.

9. Create family memories they can carry into adulthood.

Spend time as a family doing fun things that facilitate positive interactions and memories. It can be as simple as playing board games, going to a water park, or doing a family vacation. Making an effort to create memories that your children can reminisce about as adults is important.

They won’t want to revisit the hardships, the bickering, and the fights, as those are not pleasant memories to revisit. Instead, be sure the family is creating memories that are worth revisiting. If life is all work and no play, the kids suffer, as do their memories of childhood.

Take the time to cherish their childhood, as it is fleeting. The memories they make will last a lifetime, so make sure there are plenty of positive ones. Take lots of photos, so you have proof of those good time. A photo is worth a thousand words, so take photos when positive family times happen.

10. Help them learn conflict-resolution skills.

Sibling conflict is inevitable, but it is also something parents should be concerned about. Research by Howe & Recchia found a correlation between severe conflict in sibling relationships during childhood and maladjustment in adulthood. For example, one finding cited by Howe & Recchia was that “extreme levels of childhood sibling conflict are related to later violent tendencies as adults.”

It is important that there are rules in place in a household first; the next step is helping children resolve their conflicts through some parental mediation. I have a good example of this recently in our home: two of the kids were fighting over a toy. In our home, if toys are fought over, they are taken away. We call it toy time out.

In this particular instance, I warned the kids that they had one minute to decide how to share the toy and stop arguing, or the toy would be taken away. Sure enough, my daughter told her brother he could have it first, and then she would play with it in a few minutes when he was done. The argument ceased between them without me having to even go into the room.

The key to making this work is to follow through every time. If they hadn’t come to an agreement within a minute, I knew I had to follow through and take away the toy. Not following through would otherwise mean to them that my threats are meaningless, and they don’t have to actually problem-solve anything together because there aren’t consequences. Finding the teachable moments to help moderate conflict-resolution skills is helpful to children learning to implement these skills on their own in the future.

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Conflict resolution doesn’t have to be complicated. It is simply finding a solution that works for both parties by having both people understand the other person’s perspective. Kids can learn to do this with some guidance and mediation from their parents.

11. Help them see the good and positive in one another.

Teaching your children to give their siblings the benefit of the doubt can help them go a long way in developing a positive relationship. Help your kids see that they don’t mean to harm one another, meaning they give them the benefit of the doubt in situations when one child feels wronged by the other.

For example, if Suzy pushes her brother down because they are playing tag and it got too rough, then the parent can help the situation by asking Suzy if she intended to push her brother to hurt him. Of course she will say no, and the parent can give the opportunity for her to explain that it wasn’t done on purpose, and that it was indeed an accident.

Going through this type of scenario from time to time helps you show your kids that they don’t intend actual harm to one another. Accidents happen and sometimes emotions get too high as well. Helping them recognize their siblings are indeed good human beings and not out to get them is a great thing a parent can do for their kids.

12. Let them know how lucky they are to have one another.

Not every child gets a sibling. Let children know that they are lucky to have their siblings. They have a special bond and place in the world because they do have siblings. For many people their sibling relationships are the longest lasting relationships they will have in their lifetime. Help them start it out on the right foot by teaching them how to have good and healthy sibling relationship during childhood.

References:

Cohen, Andy (2004). Research on the Science of Forgiveness: An Annotated Bibliography. Whttp://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/the_science_of_forgiveness_an_annotated_bibliography

Howe, N. & Recchia, H. (2004). Sibling Relations and Their Impact on Children’s Development. http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/the_science_of_forgiveness_an_annotated_bibliography

News in Health (2007). The Power of Love: Hugs and Cuddles Have Long-Term Effects. https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2007/february/docs/01features_01.htm

Featured photo credit: Having fun on #AmericasBestBeaches by Visit St. Pete/Clearwater via flickr.com

More by this author

Dr. Magdalena Battles

A Doctor of Psychology with specialties include children, family relationships, domestic violence, and sexual assault

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Published on September 26, 2019

How to Help Your Child with Behavior Problems

How to Help Your Child with Behavior Problems

Before I talk about ways to help with child behavior problems, I want to share a story with you…

Little Suzy recently started Kindergarten. Within the first several days of school, the teacher noticed that Suzy was quite defiant when asked to follow instructions in the classroom. The teacher would ask the students to gather on the rug for circle time and Suzy would say no, and refuse to stop playing with toys in the corner of the classroom.

Suzy has been erupting at school and yelling at other children. The school contacted Suzy’s parents because a situation escalated at school this week and Suzy hit a classmate over the head with a Lacrosse stick while they were playing outside. The bystanders said it wasn’t an accident and that Suzy hit their classmate hard on the head several times with the stick because the classmate wouldn’t give Suzy the ball.

Her parents are at a loss. They don’t know what to do. They don’t know why Suzy is acting this way. They have difficulty at home getting her to follow directions. She seemed to not respect authority when they take her to church or anywhere where she is being supervised by other adults, the feedback that they receive is that Suzy doesn’t listen and refuses to follow instructions. She seemed to hear what they would say, but her response is always “no, I am not doing it.” Situations often escalate into Suzy having a temper tantrum.

It was also noted by her parents that Suzy has not made any friends during the first month of school. She was doing things to annoy and even bully other children. Instigating arguments and always trying to be right seemed to be her pattern of behavior. She lacked empathy toward her classmates and even blamed them for things that she did. For example, she wrote curse words on the blackboard and blamed another student. She fails to take responsibility for her negative behaviors.

The school referred Suzy to a child psychologist the second month of school based on the her behaviors at school including refusing to follow instructions from her teacher, yelling, bullying, not making any friends, and beating a classmate with a Lacrosse stick. The parents are hopeful that the psychologist can understand why Suzy is acting like this and that they can get her the help that she needs.

After the psychologist met with Suzy, her parents, and the teacher had some answers. The psychologist asked if the parents had ever heard of the term “Oppositional Defiant Disorder.” The parents said that they had not. The psychologist went on to explain that this disorder, abbreviated as ODD is defined by the presence of at least four of the following behaviors for at least 6 months and these behaviors are noticeably more severe than their peers’ behaviors:

  • Argues with adults
  • Often defies adult authority and rules
  • Deliberately annoys others
  • Blames others for their mistakes or behavior
  • Often loses their temper
  • Often exhibits anger, irritability, and/or hostility
  • Often bothered by others
  • Acts vindictive

The parents agreed with the psychologist that Suzy had more than four of these behaviors present. They said that the behaviors were present while in preschool as well and that they could see these problems increasing over the past year. They had hoped that a different teacher would be able to better reign in Suzy’s behavior. They felt that it was perhaps the preschool teacher that was too soft on Suzy. Now they realize that they have a real problem, since the behaviors have persisted for over a year and under the direction of a new teacher and school.

They commit to a plan to help Suzy. The psychologist refers the parents to a clinician who has parent training classes that will help them learn skills to handle the ODD. The child is entered into a therapy program that includes bio-feedback methods that teach the child emotional self-regulation.

One year later, the family is happy to report that Suzy is like a different child. She knows how to control her emotions. Her parents also know how to implement structure and discipline in their household which helps reinforce Suzy’s good behaviors. Suzy is now thriving in school and has friends. The early intervention for Suzy helped with this positive outcome, along with parents who were committed to working alongside their daughter to make the consistent changes they all needed to make to this happen.

Suzy’s case is just one example of a childhood behavioral disorder. There are several major behavioral and emotional disorders that can show up in childhood. It is important that parents have a general knowledge of these disorders and their symptoms, so they know when they need to seek professional help.

When in doubt, seek out the help of a mental health professional who specializes in childhood disorders, as they can assist in properly assessing your child. If after seeking out professional help you find that your child does not qualify for a diagnosis, the mental health professional can help provide referrals to help with the issues that your child is having. For example, your child may have issues with controlling their temper, but they don’t qualify for an ODD diagnosis. Parents can still be provided with information on parenting groups or trainings that can assist with learning how to handle this issue with their child. Their child could also be referred to play therapy, or another mode of therapy that can help the child learn to control their temper and process their emotions.

In this article, you will understand more about child behavior problems and what you can do to help children with behavioral disorders.

What are Some Behavioral Disorders?

The DSM is a diagnosing manual used by mental health professionals to assess behavioral and emotional disorders. The most common major behavioral and emotional disorders that can occur during childhood, which are defined and categorized by the DSM include:

  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
  • Anxiety Disorder
  • Depression
  • Bipolar Bisorder

Below you find a brief description of each of these disorders. Having a general understanding of these disorders can help parents assess whether there is something wrong with their own child’s behavior.

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Symptoms of a Behavioral Disorder and Diagnosing

Diagnosing of a behavioral disorder requires a professional who is educated on the DSM. The DSM is the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders”. This manual provides mental health professionals with guidelines and diagnosing criterion for every mental health disorder.

If you think that your child may be suffering from a behavioral disorder, please talk to their primary care doctor and ask for a referral to see a psychologist. A psychologist who specializes in diagnosing behavioral disorders will be most helpful in providing you with answers and directions for specific treatment methods.

If you can’t get a referral from your child’s doctor, don’t stop. You are your child’s best advocate. If you think that they have a legitimate issue, then be their advocate and find the help that they need from professionals. See a different doctor, or contact a psychologist directly and explain your situation.

There is help available, you have to be the advocate for your child and it begins by getting them appointments to see professionals who can best help your child.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Let me share another story with you… Dillon is a healthy boy with lots of energy, a cheerful attitude, and seems to be smart. He is now in the third grade and has started to have major issues at school. Increasingly, he is having problems focusing in class. He is always fidgeting with items from inside his desk. Pulling out pens to click continuously, to the annoyance of his teacher.

Dillon is always losing his assignments, bus pass, and backpack. His thoughts seemed to be scattered in lots of directions and when it comes time to focus on a particular activity in the classroom, he has an inability to focus in general. His actions and inattentiveness are affecting the other students in the classroom. It is also affecting his ability to learn.

Previously, he was getting solid high marks in school. Currently, his grades are slipping and he is at the bottom of his class. His grades are more of a reflection of his lack of focus, losing assignments, and problems following directions. His inability to focus, problems with listening, and his fidgety behavior are greatly interfering with his classroom attentiveness and subsequently negatively affecting his grades.

His parents describe his behavior for the past year as hyperactive and inattentive. Dillon is a classic case of ADHD.

Healthline explains that there are three types of ADHD: Inattentive, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.[1]

Behaviors associated with Inattentive ADHD include missing details, getting bored easily, difficulty focusing on a single task, loses personal items often, difficulty organizing thoughts, problems listening, moves slow or appears to daydream often, processes things more slowly than their peers, and trouble following directions.

Some of the behaviors associated with a predominately hyperactive-impulsive ADHD diagnosis include squirming, difficulty sitting still, talking incessantly, playing with small objects with their hands often even when it is not appropriate, act out of turn (not waiting), blurting out answers, difficulty participating in quiet activities, constantly on the go, and impatient.

Most people experience a combination of systems and are not exclusively hyperactive, inattentive, or impulsive. There is not a single test alone that determine an ADHD diagnosis. Instead, it is an assessment of patterns of behavior. The behaviors must also be determined to be disruptive to the individual’s ability to function on a daily basis. A psychologist or a psychiatrist can assess whether a child has ADHD. A psychiatrist is able to prescribe medicine for a child with ADHD.

Ultimately, it is up to the parent whether they want their child to take a medication for this disorder. There are many children who learn to manage their symptoms of ADHD through regular therapy.

Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)

The symptoms of this disorder and the criterion for diagnosing were discussed earlier in this article. The treatment for ODD often includes therapy and training for parents and the child. Treating the child alone is not typically effective. The parents play a huge role in the life of their child, so their ability to parent them in a manner that works to correct the ODD behaviors and symptoms is imperative.

A conduct disorder can develop if a child with ODD does not receive proper treatment. Conduct disorder is another DSM diagnosis, but this one is more often seen in teens who previously were diagnosed or showed signs of ODD. Conduct disorder is like taking the ODD to another level.

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Empowering Parents explains the difference between ODD and conduct disorder:[2]

A key difference between ODD and conduct disorder lies in the role of control. Kids who are oppositional or defiant will fight against being controlled. Kids who have begun to move—or have already moved—into conduct disorder will fight not only against being controlled, but will attempt to control others as well. This may be reflected by “conning” or manipulating others to do what they want, taking things that don’t belong to them simply because “I want it,” or using aggression or physical intimidation to control a situation.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Another girl, Kate, began to show signs of developmental delays around 12 months of age. She was not speaking any words yet, and her social interactions seemed to be different than other children her age. She would not make eye contact with people in general, including her parents. She rarely smiles and doesn’t show interest in interactions from others. By the age of 2, her parents describe her to be withdrawn and in her own world. At this age, she is only saying one word responses and her vocabulary is limited to only a handful of words.

While at play, she is very focused on one object. Currently, she is fixated on a toy drum and has no desire to play with or even hold another toy. She carries the drum everywhere and is fixated on this object.

Kate can often be found rocking from side to side for no explicable reason. She has been doing this behavior increasingly, especially if her daily routine is altered in any way. Having her nap time an hour later or not going to daycare on a regular weekday will upset her and cause a meltdown. Then, she will rock for hours. The effects of the meltdown last for hours, whereas most children recover after five minutes.

She is detached from human interaction, which is why her parents sought assessment for autism at age two. She is a child who has ASD. Her parents were wise in getting her assessed at a young age, as they are able to provide her with therapies and interventions very early in her development.

There is a great variation or spectrum of behaviors and severity of symptoms associated with ASD. It is called spectrum for a reason. Because some children can have a mild case of ASD, being considered high functioning. Whereas other children with an ASD diagnosis can have more severe symptoms such as mutism and sensory meltdowns on a regular basis and subsequently would be considered low functioning.

The Mayo Clinic explains that other disorders, such as Asperger’s syndrome, which used to be a separate diagnosis, are now grouped under ASD.[3]

Autism spectrum disorder includes conditions that were previously considered separate — autism, Asperger’s syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder and an unspecified form of pervasive developmental disorder. Some people still use the term “Asperger’s syndrome,” which is generally thought to be at the mild end of autism spectrum disorder.

When a child has autism, the symptoms usually appear at a young age and are especially noticeable as they become ages 2-3.

Autism Speaks is an organization that helps to research and provide solutions for people diagnosed with autism. They provide a wealth of information for parents and caregiver on their website, to keep people informed. Here is some pertinent information from Autism Speaks:

Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication. According to the Centers for Disease Control, autism affects an estimated 1 in 59 children in the United States today.[4] We know that there is not one autism but many subtypes, most influenced by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

Because autism is a spectrum disorder, each person with autism has a distinct set of strengths and challenges. The ways in which people with autism learn, think and problem-solve can range from highly skilled to severely challenged. Some people with ASD may require significant support in their daily lives, while others may need less support and, in some cases, live entirely independently.

Diagnosis and treatment for autism is not a one size fits all. There is no single test that can be given to diagnose this disorder. It is an evaluation process and an overall assessment of the individual’s behaviors and development. The treatment can include a variety of modalities including occupational therapy, play therapy, speech therapy, and more. Treatment is dependent on the identified developmental issues and problematic behaviors that the child is experiencing.

To read more about autism, check out this LifeHack article about the signs of autism.

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Anxiety Disorder

Let’s take a look at another case. Sam has been increasingly agitated and anxious over the past year. He is now ten years old and has begun to have difficulties sleeping. He is anxious about his school work, and he discontinued soccer because it caused him such high levels of anxiety.

His parents decided to take him to see a psychologist because he no longer wants to go to school. His parents have to prod, encourage, and threaten him in order to get him to school each morning. His anxiety levels seem to be increasing over the past year. His extreme levels of worry are affecting every area of his life. He is no longer enjoying life because everything in his life seems to cause him anxiety.

His parents learn from the psychologist that Sam is likely suffering from GAD, but it is treatable and Sam will be able to resume activities in the near future with improved coping skills to better handle the stress of life.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is a condition that children can have if they exhibit extreme worry and angst about their family relationships, friendships, school work, and/or extra curricular activities. With individuals diagnosed with GAD, their daily life is affected by their anxiety and it can negatively affect their sleep, relationships, schoolwork, and ability to participate in social activities. Some other symptoms of GAD include irritability, easy to upset, headaches, stomachaches, feeling overwhelmed with worry, and avoidance of school or social activities that cause the anxiety.

There are other types of anxiety disorders that can be experienced in childhood. These can include panic disorder, separation anxiety disorder, and phobias. Anxiety disorders are diagnosed by assessment from a mental health professional who will utilize the DSM for diagnosing criterion.

Therapy is the first course of action for children with anxiety disorders. Many children with anxiety disorders benefit from medication (typically short term 6 months to a year). Each child is different, as is their treatment plan. If a child has an anxiety disorder, the parents should work with the child’s doctor and a mental health professional to properly diagnose the child and create a treatment plan that is customized for this child’s situation.

For many children who are properly treated for their anxiety, they are able to overcome the anxiety entirely. Each child is different, but professional help can increase the probability that the child will overcome their anxiety and be able to resume normal activities. A reasonable time period for treatment outcomes, and to see dramatic positive results, is approximately six months to one year. This means that the child has weekly counseling sessions with a mental health professional that specializes in treating anxiety disorders in children in order for these kinds of results to be seen.

Depression

Here is another case study. Sally is a 9 year old who is having a hard time following the death of her brother. He was killed in a bike accident when he was hit by a car over a year ago. Sally seems to have lost all joy in her normal activities. She once enjoyed artwork and gymnastics. Now she has no interest in participating in these activities. When asked why she doesn’t want to do them anymore, her response is “what is the point?”

She is very irritable toward her parents. When they try to help her “get happy” by taking her ice-skating and to the county fair, she is crabby, irritable, and moody the entire time. Her parents express to a psychologist that they just can’t seem to make her happy. They also inform the psychologist that Sally doesn’t play with her friends anymore, she has trouble sleeping at night, and has a dramatic loss of appetite.

Sally is suffering from depression. She had not attended any counseling following her brother’s death. His death caused her to fall into an emotional depression. With counseling, she can overcome the depression and learn to cope with loss in the future.

Childhood depression is characterized by feelings of loneliness, sadness, and/or hopelessness. Childhood depression often presents very similar as adult depression. However, one major difference is that the sadness in children is often projected as irritability. Depression affects the whole child including their behavior, social interactions, thoughts, physical health, and mental well being. For a complete listing of symptoms associated with depression in children, see my other article on the signs of depression in children.

Depression in children is best diagnosed with a mental health professional. They will be able to assess the child according to the DSM diagnosing criterion to determine whether the child is clinically depressed. The treatment plan involves therapy when a child is depressed. In some cases, medications are recommended as well.

Each child is different, so they should be assessed on their individual behaviors and presenting issues for a customized treatment plan. Many children who are provided with proper treatment for their childhood depression are able to overcome their depression and go on to lead normal, healthy lives.

Bipolar Disorder

Another story I want to share with you is about Linda. Linda is a 13 year old girl who has just entered puberty. Her parents have noticed that over the past year, Linda’s behavior is either depressed or manic for stretches of days and/or weeks. They describe her moods to be cycles. For example, they say for the past week she has been high energy, with no need for sleep, hyper focused on a science fair project, and is easily irritated with everyone around her. They said that the previous two weeks before this high energy phase, she appeared very sad and depressed. They said that these cycles have been going on for more than a year and are disruptive to Linda’s school, social, and family life on a daily basis.

After further assessment by a psychologist, it is determined that Linda has bipolar disorder. Her parents elect to treat her with weekly therapy and medication.

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Bipolar disorder in children will typically emerge around adolescence, however, there are instances of children being diagnosed younger. Children with this disorder will exhibit cycles of manic behavior and then cycles of depression. The signs of bipolar disorder are similar in children and adults, however, as WebMD explains, there is one major difference between childhood and adult bipolar disorder:[5]

One of the most notable differences is that bipolar disorder in children cycles much more quickly. While manic and depressive periods may be separated by weeks, months, or years in adults, they can happen within a single day in children.

When a child is in the depressed phase of their bipolar disorder, they will exhibit the signs of depression, as explained previously. When they are in a manic phase, they exhibit behaviors such as irritability, decreased need for sleep, mind racing, extremely talkative, and easily distracted. They also can become hyper focused on a particular activity.

Many of these same behaviors are exhibited with children who have ADHD. This is why a professional assessment is needed for diagnosing. They can help determine whether there are cycles of depression and mania present that fit the diagnosing criterion for bipolar disorder.

Treatment can include therapy and often includes medication combined with consistent therapy. There is no cure for bipolar disorder, but with help, the symptoms can be managed.

What Causes a Child to Have Behavioral Problems?

A combination of genetics and environmental factors cause behavioral problems in children.

For example, a child who has parents going through a divorce and is already predisposed to bouts of anxiety, may develop GAD because of these circumstances and the predisposition. It depends on the child, their ability to cope in the situation, and their genetic makeup.

It is not a debate over nature versus nature. Most clinicians believe that both play a role in the development of behavioral disorders in children.

How Do I Fix My Child’s Behavioral Problems?

Professional help is imperative when a child has serious behavioral problems. If you are uncertain, then the best policy is to talk to your child’s primary care doctor. They can provide you with insight and referral if needed.

Don’t be afraid to take your child to get evaluated because you don’t want them to be labeled. Labels don’t have to be permanent. However, behaviors and problems that are left untreated can become more permanent than any label. For example, a child with ODD that goes untreated can develop into a teen and young adult with a conduct disorder that lands them in prison. All of which can be avoidable if treatment is sought during childhood.

The purpose of a diagnosis is so that professionals know how to develop a treatment plan. For example, they know that children with ODD respond well to biofeedback methods and cognitive behavioral therapy methods. Following a diagnosis, the psychologist or psychiatrist treating your child can refer you to professionals that provide these treatment modalities.

Professionals also know that parental training is especially helpful in ODD cases. Parents can be taught ways to minimize the symptoms and behaviors associated with ODD. However, if the child doesn’t get a diagnosis for their problem, their likelihood of getting treatment for their specific problem is diminished greatly.

Final Thoughts

If you know that your child has problematic behaviors, please get them assessed by a professional, preferably a psychologist or a psychiatrist who specializes in diagnosing children. They can help direct you to the counseling and resources for your child’s specific problem.

Leaving a condition untreated is liking giving permission to the disorder to flourish and thrive. It will likely not change or improve through hope alone. Professional help is best for children who have serious behavioral problems. Don’t take on your child’s problems alone. There are professionals who want to help you, your child, and your family go from surviving to thriving.

If you don’t know where to even begin finding the right kind of help for your child, then start with contacting your child’s primary care doctor. Make an appointment to discuss the issues and problems that your child is experiencing.

Treatment is not a one size fits all. Finding professional help will best assist your child in getting the treatment plan that best fits their situation.

Featured photo credit: Caroline Hernandez via unsplash.com

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