Parents often feel guilt and anger over child’s bad behavior
This could be subtitled: How to handle anger and frustration caused by ADHD behavior, but ADHD is not the only behavior disorder that might lead to despair, frustration, guilt and anger.
Almost ninety percent of parents of children with behavior disorders that come to my office for ADHD diagnosis feel guilt and anger over their child’s misbehavior and will ask: What did I do wrong? Did I cause his (her) bad behavior?
Nick’s mom Sarah was no exception. On Nick’s first office visit for ADHD evaluation, Sarah explained the “real reason” for her visit. It wasn’t because her 11 year-old son Nick had bad grades or was in trouble with the law. It wasn’t even because she was sure he had ADHD. It was because she had just reached the end of her rope-her patience was gone and nerves were shot and she felt guilty and angry.
She told me Nick’s behavior was terrible regardless of where he went. He talked back to teachers, smarted off to everyone who tried to befriend him, lost his temper at the drop of a hat, and had absolutely no respect for anyone-especially elders and those in authority.
His usual saving grace at school was he made “straight A’s” in all subjects and teachers usually gave him a lot of leeway because of his intelligence. They often just considered him to be “eccentric.” However, this time, his grades didn’t save him when he “blew-up” in class and threatened a teacher. He was expelled for a week and couldn’t return until his behavior problem was “checked-out and fixed.”
As a result of his behavior, Sarah and her husband were getting complaints from everyone who encountered Nick-even before the episode at school. Not only was it frustrating that they had no control over his behavior and that nothing they did seemed to change it, but they felt guilty-very guilty over the possibility they had done something to cause his behavior. Now, that guilt had now turned to anger-lots of anger. (We’ll discuss Nick’s behavior disorder in our next article-hint-it is not ADHD!)
Why do children like Nick make parents feel guilty and angry?
It’s because most parents of behavior problem children:
• Feel out of control because they really don’t understand what is going on in their son’s or daughter’s brain,
• Are frustrated because nothing they do or have done seems to work to fix things or even make them the slightest bit better,
• Become embarrassed about their child’s terrible behavior around friends, family or even strangers-they can’t take them anywhere,
• Begin to believe things are hopeless and their child will never change-will never grow up-may never leave home as an adult,
• Start to doubt their parenting skills and believe they are bad parents or that they actually did something that caused the bad behavior,
• Worry there is something wrong with their genetics or that they have an inheritable disease they passed down to their child
• Become angry as all of these things come to a head.
Knowing what happens to cause parents of behavior disordered children to feel guilty gives us an edge in understanding how to handle those feelings. So, here goes…
1. First and foremost, you must assess your feelings about your child’s behavior and how it makes you feel. Doing so frees your emotions so you can deal with them and get them out of the way.
2. Make a list describing what you don’t like about your child’s behavior; followed by suggestions on how to change or improve his or her bad habits.
3. List all of your child’s good behaviors and make notes about what you can do to get him or her to continue these behaviors and develop new ones.
Tips on learning to deal with your child’s misbehavior and your own emotions
If you’re angry, you should ask this question; did your child really make you angry or did you allow the anger to occur?
Keep in mind that most behavior disordered kids are excellent at manipulation and know which buttons to push to get a rise out of someone. Why? Because by doing so, they are in control of the immediate situation. Children and teens with ADHD and other behavior disorders often feel insecure and not in control, so they do whatever they can to get control of their immediate situation.
When it comes to losing one’s temper; my grandfather always said “He who loses his temper first; loses the argument.” As adults, we should avoid losing our temper and control of parenting situations.
To help solve anger issues; make a list of exactly what behavior(s) made you angry, what you did about the anger at the time and how you plan handle it in the future.
Actively ignore little behaviors. I advise parents to pick a behavior-any little annoying irritating behavior and promise yourself that you’ll just ignore it. With my teenage daughters, I chose to ignore the words whatever and Duh!
Do not reinforce repetitive behaviors such as use of the word duh or silly little hand or facial gestures. When you react or overreact to these behaviors you’re actually fulfilling one of your child’s needs-the need for attention and his or her ability to get it immediately. Instead, act and don’t react. Have a plan formulated in advance about what you’ll do when a specific behavior occurs.
Be honest with your feelings and reassess them from time to time. Anger, frustration and hopelessness can be emotionally draining, can sap your energy, and can cause sleepless nights, stomach ulcers, depression and anxiety. It’s like any emotion in order to get a handle on them you must first admit their existence.
Take time for yourself- that’s time away from your child. You can’t handle your own feelings if you have to deal with your child’s emotional and behavior roller coaster at the same time.
Ask for professional help-get help from a behavior specialist or counselor coach. Trying to go it alone with a misbehaving child is like trying to learn how to build a computer without ever having read a book on computers or taking a class in the subject. Kids don’t come with owner’s manuals, instructions for assembly, or tips for rearing.
With little effort you might use the tips we’ve discussed to handle guilt, frustration and anger caused by dealing with children with behavior disorders.
Next time we’ll discuss Nick’s real behavior problem.
Frank Barnhill, MD