Most parents can comment on the sinking feeling in the pit of our stomachs when we hear the inevitable, “your child misbehaved today.” That feeling of embarrassment and subsequent doubt about your parenting skills is a universal experience that goes hand and hand with parenting. With most children, thankfully, these comments are occasional and the embarrassment and doubt are transient. However, with some children the bad behaviors are constant and do not respond to the usual interventions such as grounding, spanking, talks, or time-outs. The stress of raising such a difficult child becomes unbearable for the entire family.
Chances are, you probably know a child with behavior problems like this. Michael was one such child. He was constantly in trouble at home, school and church. His mother routinely received calls from his school. She and the school principal were on a first name basis practically. Unlike Michael’s brothers and sisters, he did not seem to respond to the usual discipline methods in the home. His mother Cheryl said one day to his father James, spanking only seems to make him worse and he stays on punishment 24-7. Michael refused to do anything. It didn’t matter what it was as long as he didn’t feel like doing it at the time. He refused to get up for school, get ready for bed, even to come to dinner with the rest of the family. Other kids didn’t like to play with Michael because he couldn’t follow the rules to games and he was a sore loser when he didn’t get his way. When Michael was suspended from school for the fifth time this year, the school informed his parents that he could not return until he was evaluated by a counselor for his out of control behavior.
With tears in their eyes, Michael’s parents escorted him to the psychotherapist’s office recommended by Michael’s pediatrician. This therapist had extensive experience in treating children with a behavior problem known as Oppositional Defiant Disorder. It is currently believed that about 8% of children in this country suffer from behavior problems. Most respond to appropriate mental health treat with a focus on behavior management.
In Michael’s case, the therapist determined that Michael’s parents could not control his behavior because Michael was born with a chemical imbalance in the brain, which caused him to be hyperactive, moody, inappropriately angry, and have difficulty sleeping. After treatment by the Child Psychiatrist with medication to control his moods anger and sleep problems, Michael started to improve. His mother got a call from the principal four months later. This time, it was to congratulate Michael’s parents on helping him turn his behavior around and to nominate him for the most improved student award.
For more information on children’s behavior problems, I highly recommend the book Your Defiant Child by Russell A. Barkley, PhD and Christine M. Benton. To obtain referrals for culturally sensitive behavioral therapists, call the Black Mental Health Alliance at 410-338-2642.
About the author of this article:
Kim B. Jones-Fearing, MD is a Board-Certified Psychiatrist in private practice in Burtonsville and Columbia Maryland.