I’m reading Kasher in the Rye by comedian Moshe Kasher, which is his memoir about being Jewish, being the son of deaf parents, and being a drug addict growing up in Oakland. Kasher had a lot of problems starting at a very young age, which gave him a slew of diagnoses before he hit kindergarten. These two lines stood out to me:
But one should never doubt the tenacity of a four-year old boy with severe behavioral issues. Or at least, one should never doubt the behavioral issues of a four-year-old boy with behavioral issues.
He makes a really good point.
It reminds me of the philosophy of Dr. Ross Greene, author of The Explosive Child. Dr. Greene argues that some kids mature into things like flexibility and patience on their own timelines. When children are challenged to behave in ways in which they are not developmentally able, they’ll act out because of course they will; they simply don’t have the means to react otherwise.
It would be like if someone asked us to step in for a tennis champion when we’ve never picked up a racket and then got annoyed when we can’t play like Serena Williams.*
In his Bill of Rights for Behaviorally Challenged Children (the whole thing is worth reading so definitely click over), Dr. Greene writes that these children have the right:
- To have people — parents, teachers, mental health clinicians, doctors, coaches…everyone — understand that challenging behavior is no less a form of developmental delay than delays in reading, writing, and arithmetic, and is deserving of the same compassion and approach as are applied to these other cognitive delays.
I’ve found that parents tend to swing to the extremes in either becoming excessively punitive for fear that they’re letting their children “get away” with something. Or else becoming excessively accommodating with the result that the parents, other kids in the family and even the children themselves feel like they’re being held hostage to the child’s explosions.
Both reactions are understandable. Parenting a difficult child is exhausting and sometimes support from friends and family looks an awful lot like blaming and shaming. It’s no wonder then that parents cling to one side or the other.
But excessive punishment doesn’t work anymore than putting an infant in time-out for wetting her pants would work. Likewise complete avoidance of triggers for a child won’t work anymore than withholding books from a dyslexic will help her learn to read.
What difficult children need is our understanding that they’re behaviors are understandable (in the context of that child’s development and experience) and our help and support to grow stronger.
(I’ve been thinking about arranging a Problem-Solving Parenting class for parents of difficult kids next year. The curriculum complements Dr. Greene’s work nicely.)
* As demonstrated by Catherine Tate playing Helen Marsh