How To Properly Approach A Children Behavior Problem


When parents come to me many are in a state of numb confusion. They are quite clear that they don’t like what is going on, but they can’t see why it’s happening. When I ask parents about the behavior, they tend to become bogged down on some unimportant part, they over-interpret or they get entirely off-beam.

My first priority is to find the true nature of the problem. How much of the difficulty is in the child? How much of the difficulty is in the parenting? What stresses are stirring the environment? What brings calm and what triggers a blow-up? Then I need to know what techniques are being tried and which bring the best chance of success. There are a number of simple methods to cut through the confusion.

How To Properly Approach A Children Behavior Problem  Children Behavior Problem

The magic wand

When parents are asked, ‘What’s the problem?’ they often are so stressed they answer, ‘Everything.’ Only a miracle worker can sort out ‘everything’. I can only deal in specifics.

To help narrow the focus I ask, ‘If I had a magic wand and could only change one bit of behavior, what would that be?’ When I get that answer, I then ask, ‘If you had a second wish, what is the next most troublesome behavior?’

The magic wand helps parents think more clearly and shows me where I must target my treatment. Mums often see things differently to dads, but both know what is causing them pain. If you think your child has a behavior problem first try the magic wand to pinpoint what’s bothering you.

Describe a day

Children can he irritating and obnoxious at home, then act like angels in my office. Parents worry that I won’t believe their story and secretly hope the child will be abusive and trash my room. Even the worst-behaved child can make you look a liar in a non-confronting interview situation. To get around this I get the parents to take me through the typical day.

What time does she wake? Is she usually in good form? What happens between getting up and breakfast time? I go through the day, getting a picture of every moment. I want to hear about the usual day, not the worst-case scenario. Armed with this information I know how to help.

Keep a behavior diary

A good psychologist will usually start by asking parents to keep a behavior diary. This measures the frequency, severity and duration of all behavior, good and bad. From this baseline the psychologist documents the reality of what is happening and can then see when the techniques they suggest are creating change. It is useful to write down what is going on as our perception can be very unreliable.

Don’t over-analyze

I meet some parents who are so analytical they would make Sigmund appear an amateur. Every action is interpreted as having some deep significance. An ornament gets bumped by an exuberant child and this is analyzed as a deliberate act of destruction. An impulsive outburst is seen as premeditated aggression. Even teasing their sister is labelled spiteful jealousy.

Parents who over-interpret may blame incorrectly, become paranoid and miss the point. The more I work with children the less I understand about their behavior. My job is to help parents change to a happy relationship, not to over-analyze their children.

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Filed Under: Family & Relationships

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About the Author: Roberta Southworth is a psychiatrist by profession. She likes to help out people by writing informative tips on how people can to solve their family and relationship issues. She is currently staying in Ireland. She has 5 years of couple counseling experience.

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