| Family Reflections |


Even without a diagnosis, some kids are just difficult


"I hate to say this, but I’m embarrassed by my own son. My friends’ kids are all successful, and their parents are rightfully shepping nachas. When they ask me how Ephraim is doing, I want to disappear in a hole in the ground. What can I say? He’s not doing anything? He doesn’t get out of bed till noon? He doesn’t learn, doesn’t go to school, doesn’t work?”

Ephraim is one of Shevy’s eight kids. The others are all doing what they should be doing at their respective stages of life. But Ephraim has always had academic and social challenges. Shevy assumed he was just a late bloomer and that he’d eventually come around.

When he wasn’t showing signs of doing that, she had him assessed. The diagnosis was ADHD, and the prescription was a pill to help with concentration. Shevy expected that little pill to do some heavy lifting: improve his grades, improve his attitude, improve his motivation, improve his social skills, and generally turn him around. It did help a little with concentration, but Ephraim continued to be Ephraim.

That’s not so surprising. Some kids with ADHD just need to be able to focus a bit better, but 80 percent of those with that diagnosis have “cousin conditions,” such as depression, social anxiety, generalized anxiety disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, disruptive mood dysregulation disorder, learning disabilities, language processing disorder, sensory processing disorder, and others.

Sometimes, there isn’t even a specific diagnosis, but a person’s functioning is disturbed. For example, some are reluctant to brush their teeth, take regular showers, and put on clean clothing, although there isn’t a specific diagnosis that causes these challenges.

Moreover, the symptoms of ADHD itself can make life challenging. Coping mechanisms can include addictive behaviors, procrastination, lying, and avoidance — each of which cause their own problems.

Healthy but Different

While some kids are born with inborn disorders that make their lives difficult and/or dysfunctional, others without official diagnoses can also be “different” in a challenging way.

“Miri has always been difficult. She’s been a good student and always managed to have friends, but she treats us as if we’ve been abusive to her. The only ‘abuse’ we’ve ever committed is not buying her every single thing she’s ever asked for — and she’s been very demanding!

“She locks herself in her room and doesn’t even join us for meals. She’s snarky to us and even rude to our guests — including her own grandparents. She really makes us look like horrible parents. If I didn’t have other loving and well-adjusted kids, I’d consider myself a huge failure as a mother!”

Human beings are complex. Parents can use good parenting tools so as not to accidentally harm their kids, but no tools are guaranteed to prevent behavioral, emotional, or mental health problems from developing.

Kids have genes and free will that ensure they are always out of reach of their parents’ ultimate control. We can’t force our kids to be healthy, happy, pleasant, or well-behaved. We can’t ensure that our children function well and succeed in their endeavors. Children are out of our control. Therefore, many, many parents are dealing with children who, in one way or another, aren’t meeting their parents’ expectations.

Accepting the Loss

When loving parents are dealing with a disappointing child, they need to help themselves. They must avoid self-blame, and they must also avoid blaming the child. Genes affect personality with or without mental health disorders; the child’s “difference” has been designed by Hashem. Parents need to develop compassion for their child’s struggle because these children are also doing their best to achieve happiness, love, and success, just like everyone else.

Children are not struggling in order to hurt their parents. They are simply being themselves, going along their own journey.

Parents are often embarrassed by their less regular child, as if the child reflects badly on them. Parents would do better to recognize the special needs of these essentially special-needs kids. Although these children appear normal or haven’t received serious diagnoses, their difficulties tell the true story. Children with learning disabilities aren’t faulted for their low achievement. Likewise, children who aren’t achieving academically can be considered to have academic disabilities even though they lack the LD diagnosis.

In other words, seeing challenging children as children with a hidden challenge can help parents maintain a more accurate — and more loving — perspective that will help both them and their child!


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 749)

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