Behavior Problems: Childhood Disorder or Just Kids?

Behavior Problems: Childhood Disorder or Just Kids?


You are in the red. Your blood is boiling, you are tired, and frazzled. You have been trying to do everything you can for your kid. You have been teaching, and helping them 24 hours a day. You are exhausted. Now your kid is at a play date and acting like a caged animal set free. You wonder, why can’t they just behave?!

One of the biggest challenges we face as parents is teaching our kids proper behavior. It’s hard to know what behavior falls into a “normal” spectrum and what is something more. We worry about child’s development. Is their behavior and skill level up to par?

The biggest question we face as parents is what is causing our child to act like this?

Fact 1: Children are children – they are not adults.
This is the hardest thing for most adults to wrap our heads around. We have developed solid reasoning for what behavior should be. We learned it as children. But we have forgotten the steps involved in learning that behavior. We don’t remember the motivations, challenges, and frustrations of communicating when we were children.

Most adults expect adult behavior from children. Children do not have the capability of acting out this behavior. Of course, we cannot tolerate disrespectful, rude or hurtful behaviors at any age. That is the point of learning in childhood. However, other behaviors are happening for a reason.

Fact 2: Your child actually doesn’t  have an ulterior motive for their outbursts and meltdowns
I cannot tell you how many times I have heard the phrase “he is just making excuses for his behavior.” Or “he is doing that on purpose.”

My child is only 5.5 years old. I have heard these phrases from other caregivers and in all honesty thought it a few times in my own mind. But you have to stop those kinds of thoughts. When I relayed the reasoning my child provided to other caregivers to try to gain support for his development, I have been faced with those phrases. Those phrases are silly for children and for adults.

The reasons why children act a certain way (and the reasons why adults act a certain way) all mean something.

Nobody is making excuses for anything in their life. There are good/bad reasons people act the way they do. We don’t always like how they act, but the reasons are sound and present. And when you hear or think about the reasons provided they do make sense. They aren’t the excuse, they are the reason.

Fact 3: Some childhood behaviors are out of the realm of standard behavior
Although our children experience many of the same behaviors, some childhood behaviors are caused by disorders.

How do we know the difference?
It’s very difficult to distinguish behaviors caused by, or are a part of, childhood disorders. You may have a diagnosis for your child, or you may be wondering if they need one. If you have a diagnosis for your child you should know what behaviors can go along with your child’s disorder. If you are unsure you should ask your physician when you receive a diagnosis.

Knowing what behaviors are part of the disorder is helpful in determining how to handle reactions to those behaviors. There might be specific methods you need to use to help your child learn to control some of the behaviors with their disorder (or perhaps they are just uncontrollable). Punishment and traditional parenting will not work on these types of behaviors. Each childhood disorder is different. Knowing what is a part of your child’s is key to success.

What Can We Do About Our Child’s Behavior?
Tip 1: Talk to your child about their behavior
No matter whether your child has a disorder or not, opening up a dialogue with your child is important. Depending on the age of your child this may be more challenging for some. However, we found even at the age of 2.5 we could start to have dialogue with our child about his behavior. In fact, we found between the ages of 2.5-4 were the best ages to really hear the cause of the behavior. After age 4 he became more aware of the impact of his answer. Although he locates the reason (and often self adjusts now), he may sometimes be less forward with his response. As parents we have to try a bit harder for the dialogue we need.

It’s truly amazing what you find out when you calmly ask your child why they are doing what they are doing.

Sometimes in the heat of the moment you will need to separate your child for one-on-one discussion. It might be a quick talk to get back to play time then, and a longer follow up on the car ride home.

How do you open this dialogue?
Keep it simple. “I see you are upset Buddy, can you tell me why you are upset right now?”

Try not to yell or blame the child for behaving poorly. Don’t bring up their poor behavior at all. Sympathize with them and ask calmly why they are upset. It’s only poor behavior to us (adults). To your child it’s just how they feel.

Develop a short-term and long-term solution to prevent the behavior from resurfacing. You can ask your child quickly what would help, or make a quick suggestions if you are in the heat of the meltdown. But later on, after the storm has passed, it’s good to follow up and come up with other behavioral alternatives for the next time that situation might arise. (They often do!)

Tip 2: Try to think about their behavior as you would your partners
This seems really weird, I know. But would you say to your partner, “You are being so naughty right now. Knock it off before you get in bigger trouble later.” If your partner was in a social situation and you didn’t particularly care for what they were saying to another person you would never say that to them.

Yes they are kids and not adults, but the fact is they are kids with feelings that count. Their feelings count just as much as your partners or other adults.

That doesn’t mean you don’t teach them, and you don’t have to put your foot down. You do. Just like you would stand up to someone that was treating you poorly, or talking to you in a way you didn’t like. You need to be firm with your child about hurtful and disrespectful behaviors. They are not tolerated in society at all. It might mean immediately leaving certain situations to get your child to stop the behavior. Then having a longer discussion later after everyone is calm. This is the same thing as taking a break in a discussion with another adult to cool down and address it again later.

If it were your partner think of it like, “Hey what’s going on with you right now? You seem very angry and upset. What can I do to help?” Or it might even be something like “Hey I am not comfortable with this situation. Let’s get out of here, relax, take a break and we can talk about it later when we are cooled down.”

Tip 3: Try to separate out possible behavior issues from disorders from regular behavior
If you know your child has had a flare of their illness, or they are actively struggling with their disorder, you may see more extreme behavior. You know the extreme nature is due to common things like being overtired, not feeling well, or just having stress from their disorder in general.

Because you are identifying an extreme behavior doesn’t mean their behavior is ignored or excused. This is where we need to be sure we aren’t providing excuses for our child’s behavior. There are good reasons, but no matter what even when we are ill as adults we are not given a free pass to act however we want. We are still accountable for our actions and our behavior. However, we are also expected not to be 100 percent. Acting tired, and grumpy are normal things that go along with illness and disorder. We need to be reminded at times to not take those feelings out on others around us, but we are still accountable. So is your child.

It’s hard being a parent. We will always lose our temper. We will yell. We will try to be patient, and we will try to be calm. We will always wonder why our child acts like they do. It’s OK. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Try something new and know everyone else is wondering the same thing about their kid.