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Published on April 4, 2019

How to Enjoy Parenting Teens and Help Your Kids Thrive

How to Enjoy Parenting Teens and Help Your Kids Thrive

This article is here because my daughter’s friend said “Your mum’s cool. She’s a great parent.” It led to us asking what makes a good parent of teens?

My children are 18 and 15 and I don’t think I get it right all the time. However, having asked on social media, I think I get an easy ride. So from my daughter’s point of view, coaching and mine, here’s how to get the best out of teen years for you and your teenagers.

1. Know How They Wind You up

Teens know how to hit every annoy parent button going. Work out what triggers you and work on yourself before you engage with them.

As a rule of thumb, if you wouldn’t talk to a colleague at work like it, then don’t speak to your child like it. Your aim is to help them become successful adults and that’s a process that should start from birth – even as young children, you want them to be able to communicate effectively to get what they want, be strong minded, confident and capable in the big wide world.

So you need to be their role model. And that’s not easy when they are hitting your buttons.

Find yours and desensitise yourself to them. (For me, I can internally laugh and think “What must I have sounded like to my Mum at this age?” And that diffuses any frustration.

2. Understand Why They Grunt

Maybe you wonder, “Why do they grunt – they communicated better when they were 7!”

Teens are learning to be who they are (and there’s plenty of adults who still don’t know!) So don’t expect them to behave the same as they did when they were little and cute.

If you get grunts and groans at suggestions of things to do, it’s not them saying “That’s the worse idea ever;” that’s them questioning “Is it okay to be me? To do this? To live like this? To want this?” They are questioning:

  • Where do I fit in the world?
  • What do I want to do?
  • What should I train to be?
  • Will I have to move town?
  • How will I cope?

Many questions that any adult would find daunting, and when you know the science that their brains do not finish growing until they are in their 20’s, you can see why you might have days where you have the equivalent of a Teen Zombie on your hands.

Ask yourself if you could cope with your job, family life, friends, chores and still find the brain space to answer the big life questions.

According to research by Sarah-Jayne Blakemore whose research lab is based at UCL in London,[1]

“The answer is this: the prefrontal cortex, which regulates emotional responses and inhibits risk-taking, is going through physiological changes that make some adolescents act in such seemingly incomprehensible ways.”

When you consider the prefrontal cortex functions in cognitive control (planning, attention, problem solving, error monitoring, decision making, social cognitive and working memory) you can start to see why they forget to empty the dishwasher or behaved as they did. It really is not their fault!

3. Deal with Your Own Feelings

They are growing up and inevitably they are going to leave home. While many cheer there’s still that sinking empty nest feeling that can have many negative connotations:

  • “I wish they would appreciate me.”
  • “They don’t know how easy they’ve got it.” Etc etc.

Ultimately it can lead us to question:

What’s my role? Where will I fit in their future? (Or even – will I?)

Don’t get ahead of yourself and have gratitude for this time – it’s limited.

I got upset at Christmas when my son reminded me this could be his last stocking under the tree. (Yes we still do that – read on for why.) As my son said to me “I’m not gone yet, you’ve got me for another 14 months yet.” I had to hide the sad sigh I nearly let out.

But of course he was right. And if I get this right, I will be a part of his future. It’s hard to admit your role at this age is to become surplice to requirements. But then, you remember there will be a whole new myriad of ways they will want and need support, and of course therefore your jobs not over yet.

4. Respect the Door (And Get It Reinforced – They Will Slam It!)

Things are changing and they need space to work out what that means; just as you want to desperately hold on to the cute child that used to run home from school and want a cuddle and to tell you all about it.

When their door is shut, respect that – knock before you go in. Don’t fear something sinister is happening in there. It showcases you respect their space. These little unsaid things will start to speak in a positive way to your teen.

Likewise, you want them to respect your privacy and quiet time – and my children are far more respectful of me as I’ve given them more respect. Which leads us on to…

5. Relinquish Control – Start Them Young. (8 to 10 Years Old)

Ask yourself:

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How and when will I relinquish control? At what pace? And why is this important to introduce?

From that age, our children had no bedtime. We’d discuss how tired they thought they were, and when did they want to go to bed?

Yes we would have “I feel wide away Mummy” nights where they were clearly exhausted and then the conversation would progress to:

“So what’s the reason you keep yawning do you think?”

“When Mummy yawns, what do you think it means?”

That kind of question is a coaching question that puts the responsibility back on the other person. And it helps them to learn to listen to their body – something critical for the teen years.

You can’t expect an 19 year old to magically get up ready for a day at work or university if you didn’t help them learn to listen to their own bodies years in advance.

6. It’s Okay to Play

I asked my daughter’s friend why she felt I was a great parent. She shared that while I was “scary,” (code for expected high standards) I encourage play.

At 15, a group of girls can feel awkward jumping around in a pool and playing like, well kids – is that allowed as teens? As I pointed out at the time – you’re in a secluded garden – you can squeal with excitement, play volley ball and no one can see you to judge you playing – it is still allowed at 15.

That’s why my children still set up for Santa every year. Don’t be so quick to grow up.

As a coach, it is only when I bring fun to the session can someone really deal with difficult obstacles in their life. Lead by example, let them see fun is not off the agenda just because you grow up – they have incredibly creative minds at this age, so enable and empower that and they could benefit for their whole lives.

7. Know When to Loosen the Leash

Social media and phones in general can be a massive headache for parents.

“You spend your life on that phone,” ask yourself why.

Is it because they hate the real world and it’s more fun?

Or is it more likely because they can hang out virtually with their friends no matter where they are or what “lame” chore they’re doing? It can lighten the load by sharing with a friend. No different to you.

When I was a kid, I was constantly moaned at for having my head in a book; “Get outside” “Don’t you want to go and play with your friends?” I’d hear every weekend and holiday.

I love reading – it’s an escape, a place to learn. A place to calm my thoughts and not have to engage with anyone or anything – that phone does the same for them.

Instead of being so quick to limit their time and control when and where they can use it, have a conversation about how your teen likes to use their phone and how it can be used to navigate the fact you are in a family environment, and you don’t always want to see their face with a metal block in front of it;

“How can I give you your space and time with your friends every day and get to hear about your day too?”

Remember, don’t make it about you and your needs – it’s not that they don’t care; it’s just there’s too much going on for you to be at the top of the importance pile.

8. Teach off Line Time by Getting off Line

Our interconnected worlds are awesome to reduce loneliness, but they also can make us question who we are and reduce confidence and escalate anxiety.

One report by the Royal Society for Public Health in the UK surveyed 1500 young people, ages 14 – 24, to determine the effects of social media on issues such as anxiety, depression, self-esteem, and body image.[2] They found that YouTube had the most positive impact, while Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and SnapChat all had negative effects on mental health

9. Ask Yourself “What Did You Hate Your Parents Saying to You?”

I can remember my Dad had an infuriating rule that we weren’t allowed out on a Friday night – “Friday night is family night.”

I’ve always believed in the importance of a meal sat around a table where everyone gets to off load about their day. But my teens can be keen to race their food desperate to get back to homework, gaming or friends online. However we expect a little of their day.

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“In 24 hours, I don’t think it’s a lot to give your Mum and Dad an hour at meal time” I say.

It’s a completely reasonable request (with relapses allowed as you will see below.) But it ensures we stay bonded as a family and the conversations always include laughter and yes, some stroppy antagonising between siblings. But it’s a chance for 4 people to come together and chat with no agenda. Hence no phones, but even that has leniency.

If you want to be a part of your teens’ life, take an interest in their passions. I don’t have a great love for K-pop but I can do a few of Twice’s dance moves and I can sing along to a few BTS songs. It’s about respecting them, their hobbies, passions, interests, etc.

You can’t expect respect if you don’t give it, right? That’s why even the phone rule can get a reprieve.

If they’ve seen a great meme or a funny YouTube, if we’ve finished eating, we will suggest they fetch their phone so they can share it. I’ve also learnt it means they end up sticking around long past the allotted 60 minutes Mum and Dad time to share other videos and share more.

This obviously is something I’m not prepared to relinquish. I feel it’s a life skill I want them to learn now. But it wasn’t just enforced – we talked about the reasons why we felt it was important and how to make it a part of their day they enjoyed rather than endured.

So I listen to the things they hate and even if I’m not keen, I flex and bend:

I will let friend stay in the week.

They have proven that a game or film is age appropriate when I’ve thought differently – and they’ve then listened when I’ve firmly said “Actually sorry but no, not yet.”

I don’t say “Your too young” I’ve asked “What do you think that outfit may suggest?” And usually with a sigh they’ve been able to see the logic – but again they’ve also convinced me otherwise – my daughter convinced me she should have fish night tights (Like many things for me, these were banned as a teen and I was badly bullied for being the only child in 150 students wearing school colours when everyone else had the latest trends! My parents told me it was character building – I know now it took many years to find my confidence and like being me)

So there’s compromise – She can have them if they are under her holey jeans – Daughter Fashionable – Mum Happy.

10. Remember That No Conversation Is off Limits

While that may feel daunting and possibly even a little icky for you, if you aren’t prepared to answer their questions when and how they need them answered they will go online – and 31% of children have shared a fake news story.[3]

My friend said they wouldn’t be talking about sex with their 10 year old because it wasn’t appropriate only for it to come up in a conversation in front of me.

Remember, it doesn’t have to be graphic detail. A simplified answer is usually enough – and if you get an over exuberant questioner, there are lots of books that will help you and them learn the subject without feeling you are losing their childhood before your eyes.

That way they will grow up knowing they can trust you to give them true and honest answers. Treating like young adults.

11. Mom’s and Dad’s Have Needs Too

Teens need to learn that they are not the centre of the universe but in a delicate way – because right now, they feel like they are.

Choose your moments wisely. You can say “I feel like I’ve got a lot on this week, do you feel you can think of any ways to help me get through it all? Are there any chores around the house you could help with?”

One client introduced home rules and was surprised of the knock on impact it had in their professional lives too.

12. Don’t Drop Your Standards

I don’t want to paint a picture of two angelic teenagers – my daughter just now didn’t listen and ended up hoovering all 17 rooms instead of the 4 I asked she hoover – we laughed after I gave her a minute to calm down!

But the fact is if you feel like they aren’t listening, they probably aren’t. They start to wander off when they’ve got their thoughts out of their head….

So choose your time well to discuss things you feel are important and ensure they’ve heard what you’ve said.

I often hear “You didn’t say that.” When you get that answer, It’s no good getting into “Yes I did, you were standing right there when I said it!” because that turns into a she said, he said moment that couldn’t get unpicked it a court of law.

Make sure when you ask them to do something or need to know something, you have a witness – that way either your partner, friend or their sibling can say on your behalf “Did you hear what your Mum said?” Usually you get a vague “er yes.”

Or ask them to repeat it back to you. That way, you know that they know what they’ve been asked to do – so the excuses for why they didn’t do it later won’t happen.

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Just remember if you have standards and you expect things from them. Be prepared to listen to them and understand what they feel is important too.

13. The Bank of Mom and Dad Doesn’t Need to Shut but It Does Need to Come with Terms and Conditions

It won’t be long before they need to go to the bank and ask for a loan to buy a house or set up student loans – get them into the habit of understanding financial conversations and terminology.

Don’t get all high and mighty with “You need to understand the value of money” or “In my day we respected money” they aren’t listening (remember?)

On the other hand, if you say something that relates to what they want in the world – a lift to a party (late at night) the latest K-pop band album that they HAVE to have the day it comes out, you can ask “Okay I’m happy to help you achieve this, how will you be paying for this?”

My children get low pocket money that’s paid into a bank account, and has been since they were young. And yes, only they had the bank card because I wanted them to learn about how to handle money; to save, to understand when it says zero on the balance, you don’t have the funds to see the latest Marvel film or meet your mates. So, what are you going to do about it?

The reason they get low pocket money is not because we are evil but, because when those overpriced K-pop albums are shipped half way around the world to my excited teenager, she is excited and proud:

Yes she saved up. Yes she delivered a thousand newspapers to help pay for it.

And that level of determination and sacrifice of other short-term things she would have loved to own mean I’m happy to make up the difference.

The interesting thing is they never ask for money. So, if it’s given as a surprise, they are always very grateful and appreciate that is not the norm.

I usually ensure after the “Thanks Mum, you’re awesome” has died down, we do have a serious conversation around “Now, you know why I paid the rest right?”

And I then give her the space to think and list of “Yes mum, I helped with the kitchen, I have cleared my washing (I don’t do their washing – if I do their washing at 15 and 18 at what age are they going to learn? Just as they are starting a long houred new job or as they start University and will need their brain space for far more important things.)

We are 4 adults living in this house all with:

  • Goals
  • Ambitions.
  • Friends.
  • Work.
  • Weekend plans.

And because of that we all need to appreciate that every week this house will need:

  • Floors washing.
  • Hoovering.
  • Polishing.
  • Cleaning.
  • Grass cut.
  • Recycling.
  • And various other tasks.

Don’t confront them. Don’t give them ultimatums. Ask questions like:

“I know you’ve got big plans for this weekend, as you can see the house needs to be tidy by Monday, what can you do to help with that?”

Or

“I know you’ve got a lot of homework to do but a little brain space will help you process your thoughts. So in between homework, how can you help with the weekly chores?”

And if they don’t help? The recycling has ended up on my sons bed and I have put dirty cups back in my daughters bedroom with a note saying “Sorry these don’t live on the side.”

14. Don’t Assume What You See Is What You Are Getting

Adults hide their true emotions all the time. I know that sometimes the last thing my kids want is me in their room, but other times they want a chat and someone listening to them.

Don’t go in strong – still be who you’ve always been to them but read the signs:

  • Longer gaming than usual.
  • Sitting in the dark on the phone.
  • Not wanting to eat with you.
  • Getting home and hiding in the room without even saying hello.
  • More short tempered than usual.
  • Eating more or less.

There’re many and you know your child. Trust your gut instinct but don’t go in all guns blazing “Let mummy fix it!” The door will be slammed in your face or you will hear “Ergh, mum you just don’t get it.”

With teens, it’s all about the timing.

15. Be Proud

List their brilliance – it will help you for the day they are hitting your buttons.

16. Don’t Push It

When my son finished his GCSE’s, he was going to be off school for nearly 4 months. I had made it clear that the rest of the family were working, so he wouldn’t spend 4 months gaming. If he didn’t’ find a job, I could find plenty of jobs around the house. (I sound so evil right?)

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I’ve learnt that to push it means they will push back. So when one month passed and still he had no job, he noticed the money dried up. He wanted new shorts (This had holes). Everyone was going to the cinema and“he didn’t have enough in his bank account.

I didn’t argue with him, I just said “A job would probably be useful then” and wouldn’t get dragged into it; as hard as it is I so wanted to just phone my business contacts and find him a job.

I knew that the real reason he hadn’t found a job was because he feared going into restaurants, bars, shops and offices and asking for one. I can remember that fear and I wasn’t going to force his hand. His friends did that for me.

Eventually 2 months later when I still wasn’t opening the doors of the bank of Mom and Dad, he came home proudly to announce he had been offered 5 interviews and had 2 jobs he could immediately start that Saturday.

In one morning!

Wow that was fast? What did I do?

Nothing.

He needed to get there for himself. Eventually the pain of not having the things and experiencing what he wanted was associated with having no money. And so he did something about it despite the fear of talking to strangers or carrying 5 plates at once.

Fear will never stop being an issue in life – trust me as a coach specialising in this, I know!

Wind forward 6 months and the boss of the restaurant stopped me and said “Your son has an awesome work ethic, is great with customers, gets loads of tips and learns quickly.” Now that beats any school report!

If I had forced him this first memories of interviews and getting jobs, it would have been stressful for him.

By not pushing him, he could get there on his own and now knows he can get the job – that’s essential knowledge and experience for life. Interviews are scary enough!

17. Teach Life Skills

Basic life skills such as how to shake someone’s hand, how to greet someone, why eye contact is important and what your body language can say to people – before you get a chance to speak…

These (and many more) help when you aren’t feeling confident to try new things. Don’t expect miracles only 5 years earlier he was still asking me to take him around the local area to find Pokémon!

18. Make Time for Fun

There are few things I put my foot down about. We expect a high standard from our children and don’t get me wrong, they can stomp off and slam a door like Olympic champions if they want to, but they do know we expect:

Film night once a month – we will provide the sweets and popcorn you give us 2 hours of your life.

Meal time every night – with a few naughty treats – do you know how excited a teen gets at the prospect of a pizza in bed all on their own watching what they like?

I think it’s only fair because we all need space and while I’m not keen on the eating in bed thing –give in and let them do a few things they love. Your actions show you care. Even if the bed sheets aren’t so appreciative.

In the school holidays, I expect them to come out for the day with me and yes, take them to any café or restaurant they like. Give and take.

Go to the cinema and see what they want. I could go in a different cinema and watch my choice of film but it’s usually a dead cert that I will be watching Marvel or some off spin CGI film with them instead.

I’ve seen every Disney, Pixar and Marvel film going – I could do with a break and a few films with real humans in, but my theory is you don’t get to keep them for long.

Final Thoughts

And that’s the point isn’t it. If you find yourself seeing red, and struggling, they are at the age that they could be moving out within a few years and that’s it for this stage – it’s all over.

I cherish every half term. Every moan about a teacher. Every in-depth description of “she said, he said” because in a few years time, they will get new people in their lives — girlfriends, boyfriends… And then you really are knocked off their pedestal!

As my mum said to me when my children were very little, teething and sleep was something I’d read about in a fairy tale. But I didn’t believe were real, I’d asked “Mum does it get easier?” and my Mum replied with a smile “It doesn’t get easier, it gets different.”

So I look forward to what the next stage will bring – probably no less worry, no less fun, no less conversations but, possibly more place settings at the table and some exciting times. Another reason to cherish every day now.

Featured photo credit: Thought Catalog via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Mandie Holgate

Coach, International BEST Selling Author, Speaker & Blogger helping thousands around the world.

How to Make Positive Changes And Start Living a Fulfilling Life 7 Reminders When You’re Making Life Choices How to Take Calculated Risk to Achieve Success What Happiness Is and Is Not: The True Meaning of Being Happy Positive and Negative Reinforcement: Which Is More Effective?

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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

Reference

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