So often I will get parents in my office looking for help for their children or adolescents for behavioral issues that they might be experiencing. The issues can range anywhere from drug or alcohol use, withdrawing from the family, difficulty managing anger, refusal to do chores or a decline in grades. Despite the issue, too often is the message the same. “Please, fix my kid.”
Most times, there is no question that, yes, the child in my office is in need of assistance and I applaud parents for taking the step to pursue counseling for their family. However, when a child is displaying problematic behaviors, it can be a signal that there are other underlying issues that are occurring within the family that have gone unnoticed. Through the course of therapy I try to instill in the parents’ minds is that while their children may be outwardly showing signs of distress, most times there are other issues within the family system that need addressed before the child can ultimately find relief.
When we are faced with a problem, it is very easy to become “problem focused” and develop tunnel vision which prevents us from looking at the bigger picture and possible solutions. This is most definitely the case when we deal with issues within the family. When a certain child is showing behaviors that may indicate a problem, it can be easy to quickly label the child as “the problem.” What we fail to notice, though, is that as humans we are influenced by our relationships and our environments. Just as spouses influence each other in many ways, children are also influenced by their greater family systems. Their immediate and extended family’s interactions, the relationship of their parents, interactions with their siblings are all factors that influence children and their behaviors.
Rather than quickly viewing our children as “the problem” and in desperate situations “needing fixed,” why not take a step back and think about how your own actions or relationships may be influencing your child and their behaviors.
Stop and ask yourself:
-When was the last time that my child was not displaying this behavior or issue?
-What was going on differently at that time?
-How was I interacting differently with my child at that time?
You might notice that during the “less problematic” times, you and your spouse may have been getting along better, perhaps you were more present at the time, maybe you had more time to devote to consistency with consequences, or perhaps you were modeling less of the undesirable behavior that you would like your child to avoid. If you are able to notice a pattern, begin doing more of what has worked for your family in the past.
No parent is perfect. Despite best efforts, we are all going to make mistakes at times. This is normal. What is important is how we handle those mistakes. Taking the time to look inward is never easy, but it could be just what is needed to help to guide your child into a different path.