| Family Reflections |

Flawed Reality

It may be hard to accept the fact that your child isn’t perfect. Do it for her sake

Parents love their children. In fact, parents love their kids so much that they’re sometimes blind to their imperfections.

“My son’s teacher says that he doesn’t listen. I think she’s just using the wrong techniques with him. He listens just fine at home.”

While it can certainly be that a child behaves better at home than he does at school and it can be that a teacher lacks the skill, knowledge, or whatever else is necessary to bring out the best in a particular youngster, it’s also possible that a teacher may be seeing a side of a child that the parent can’t see — or doesn’t want to see.

“I teach the Cohen boy four hours a day and I’m telling you that he is — excuse the unprofessional term — a monster. He’s wild and destructive. He’s aggressive, sometimes even violent. And he refuses to listen.

When I try to discuss these issues with Mom, she tells me, ‘Oh, I wonder if it’s something you’re doing because he’s not like that at home!’ Since I’m unable to get her on board, my attempts to help this child are hampered.”

This teacher will eventually find a solution for this student’s misbehavior. The principal will be called in, a referral might be made, a recommendation will be put forth, and so on. But each step will be slowed and strained by the lack of parental partnership with the school. In their state of denial, parents harm their youngster by delaying the assistance that can help him become a likeable, civilized member of school society.

Problem Behaviors, Not Problem Children

Parents may be reluctant to acknowledge their child’s difficult behavior because they’re afraid that doing so amounts to acknowledging that their child is defective. No one wants to have a “problem child.” The truth, however, is that no one has a “problem child.” What one might have is a wonderful child who’s having behavioral problems.

Behavioral problems include not listening to caregivers or teachers, hurting people, harming property, and behaving inappropriately (talking during quiet time, having tantrums and meltdowns, defying authority, showing disrespect, taunting and teasing peers, and so on).

Acknowledging the existence of behavioral problems is the first step in effectively addressing them. Leaving such difficulties unaddressed means leaving the child in an unhappy state. Happiness and behavioral difficulties are incompatible: “acting out” is an expression of inner frustration and pain, and it brings about even more frustration and pain in the form of constant rejection by both adults and peers.

Double Identity

Plenty of children behave appropriately in public and misbehave only at home. Some, misbehave in both places or only outside the home.

“I don’t get it. I believe the teacher who tells me that Dassy misbehaves in class because I’ve seen her in action when we visit other people or when we’re at the park or in the mall. Something comes over her and she acts really silly and immature. She’s not like that at all when we’re home.”

Some kids lose their bearings outside the home. Often, parents can employ a simple intervention to help such youngsters: tell them what’s expected of them in the new setting. “We’re going to visit the cousins; you can walk but not run in the house, you can talk quietly but not loudly. You can play with toys gently; no throwing, and you need to put them back where they belong. If someone bothers you, come to me for help and don’t take care of it yourself. Let’s practice all these things together right now.”

Being clear about expectations and giving a child praise and reward for succeeding even in part, can help build up the necessary self-regulation behaviors. Parents need to remember that children don’t feel good when adults aren’t smiling at them and peers are avoiding them or fighting with them. Helping a child succeed behaviorally is important to helping him succeed socially and emotionally.

Of course, there are times when parental guidance or parent-teacher teamwork is simply not sufficient to bring a child’s behavior into line. Various inborn and environmental factors can coalesce to create a behavioral storm that requires professional assistance. Here,too, acknowledging the behavioral challenge and addressing it is the best way to help a child find long term success and well-being.

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 669)

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