The 1990’s saw a phenomenon unprecedented in the world, the widespread medicating of children for behavioral issues. We are still the leader of this practice. ADHD, Pediatric Bipolar, Autism Spectrum of Disorders and oppositional or just outright defiance have become daily topics.
Why are American children more problematic or mentally ill than children in other nations? The answer is that they are not. They are the same as children everywhere, with the same challenges in their lives. They experience depression and anxiety at a high rate as their families fall apart, school expectations overwhelm them, peers are less than kind, all the same things that children everywhere face.
I have worked with families for over 20 years and have seen very legitimate cases that required some chemical help. I also have seen many more cases where the chemical help substituted for effective parenting or classroom management. Given the information we now have surrounding the negative and sometimes permanent side effects of antidepressants and mood stabilizers, I really believe it is time we ask ourselves some tough questions before going down that road.
- Am I consistent with my rules and expectations?-This is a biggie in bad behavior. If something is ok one minute and not the next, how is the child to behave? They become frustrated, throw fits and push limits to see what is the rule of the day.
- If I am divorced, are the rules the same in both houses?-Related to the above, if a behavior is ok in one home but not the other, how is the child to understand? You are forming their behavioral patterns and manners for a lifetime, confusing them leads to difficult parenting for you and anger and frustration for them. This anger and frustration may come out on you, their peers, your property or your pets. It does not mean they are Bipolar or mentally ill.
- Am I utilizing my time with my child to teach them appropriate behavior?-A trap I frequently see is where the busy parent or non custodial parent is reluctant to teach and correct because it interferes with “fun” time. Teaching and correcting may not be the most fun way to spend the day but it is your job. If you have done it sporadically or are just starting and your child is 10 years old, then your job will be a bit harder but it is doable. You are not their friend, you are the parent. The friendship will come naturally later on.
- Is it easier for me to accept a medical diagnosis for behavior than to look inside my household?-This sounds terrible but it is true, sometimes the easy route looks pretty good, especially if you are overwhelmed. The problem is that the medication doesn’t fix the behavior or correct the child’s mindset, it simply slows them down or alters their brain chemistry. If they opt to stop taking it when they become 18 they are left with the same maladaptive behaviors and have to deal with it on their own at that time.
- Am I sharing honest evaluations about my parenting challenges with my doctor?-If they believe you have done everything in your power to correct the bad behavior then their conclusion is often that there must be something medically wrong.
- Am I present in the child’s world?-If you are wrapped up in your phone, work or personal problems you may be missing clues as to what is going on. You may be inadvertently telling the child that they are not important. The behaviors and moods of the child may be a reaction to feelings of emotional neglect or loneliness. They may experience anxiety as they see you struggling with problems they do not understand.
This is not to say that there is not help available if you are faced with a difficult child. The first step as I mentioned above is to evaluate your parenting. If you are struggling, get some help from a professional. It is not a failure, children do not come with operating manuals and if you grew up in a dysfunctional home you may be missing some information. The difference here is that you are presenting yourself as the client, not the child.
There are many resources available to parents with depressed or anxious children. Psychologists can work with them, teaching them coping, self soothing and calming skills as well as reframing their thoughts that lead to poor behavior. There are books available as well if going to a professional is not the answer for you.
If you have been depressed or anxious for most of your life there is a good chance your child may suffer these as well. It is never too late to get help for yourself or your child. There really is help out there.
If you were raised in a dysfunctional environment or family you may not know how to begin. Visit us at Psychskills and get your free resource to get started, How to Stop Wasting Your Life Being Depressed, Anxious and Unhappy: The Top 10 Strategies of Emotionally Successful People.
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