A loving young (or older) mother can have a child with behavioral problems from the get-go. Some babies are born cooing and calm, all sweetness and affection, but others come out yelling and never seem to stop. Sometimes, if the irritability is related to digestive problems, they may well scream the entire time they’re awake, making life miserable for the baby and the entire household.
We can hope and pray a stressed-out mother has a way to ask for help from her child’s pediatrician and that she/he offers professional advice or referral that is something other than “Tinkerbell will grow out of this phase.” Tests are available to rule out various physical and psychological problems. They should be considered because, in spite of inherent triteness here, a problem identified is a problem on its way to solution.
Undiagnosed or untreated, “fussiness” (such an understatement) may eventually give way to the older child’s version of tantrums thrown in public places, houses of worship, and at grandma’s house, as well as at home. Finding a trustworthy babysitter for such a child is all but impossible, deepening the mother’s emotional trauma and worsening her physical and mental exhaustion. On top of all that, she has to deal with the reaction of her family AND of total strangers, most of whom are less than subtly hinting that she is a poor specimen of motherhood. If you don’t understand how some mothers can become desperate, even enraged with their own children, you haven’t had to spend time with a mouthy “difficult” child!
Help for the Child
I am no psychologist, least of all in the arena of childhood. In fact, I gave up majoring in psychology, having decided I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life listening to other people’s problems all day every day. This was in addition to hearing that many patients don’t follow advice or stick with a suggested course of action, anyway. Of course, marrying into a family that turned out to be less than stable was not much of a substitute for that career shift.
Even reading a variety of child psychology books is better than receiving no help at all. Getting input from experts with differing points of view may be frustrating, but will open up the possibilities. Personally, I would steer away from experts who preach “no discipline at all, lest you damage the child’s psyche”. That’s just my layperson’s opinion. However, there is nothing cute about a 12-year-old girl throwing a tantrum at Target’s, or worse, a 17-year-old boy pitching a foul-mouthed fit at Disneyland because he doesn’t want to wait in a long line for a ride. Give it up!
All children need to learn that, even though they are very, very loved, the world doesn’t revolve around their wants, that they can’t always win first place, that life is very often unfair, and in general, how to behave responsibly in society. It will be less painful for them than allowing them to act like barbarians pounding on the gates. However, all a parent can do is their best. Sometimes their best just isn’t enough for a child with a problem that defies diagnosis, even when it turns out to be bratty child syndrome, that is, a child who was probably spoiled too much by many relatives. And is that necessarily the child’s fault? Learning a new set of behaviors isn’t easy at any age.
Should We Say Anything?
Talking to other mothers who have struggled with a less-than-angelic child can ease the burden, particularly by those grandmotherly types who pull the mother aside to say, “You know, I had the same problems. I thought my oldest would never behave long enough so I didn’t have to leave the grocery cart sitting in the aisle to take him home.” Trial-laden mothers (and dads) need all the encouragement they can get, so please offer encouragement, not criticism, as much as possible.
Even so, if you don’t know what to say, just keep quiet. Once in a while, it helps to reprimand the child directly, such as when a little monster has deliberately kicked you with hard shoes on! Even that can backfire when a parent who’s been pretending the unruly child isn’t theirs, suddenly jumps into protective parent mode. Otherwise, let’s not make unkind comments that are bound to be heard by the parents or passed on to them by busybodies intent only on harm.
Only in cases of obvious or suspected abuse should boldness be entertained, at least to the proper authorities after you’ve discreetly obtained a license plate number from the parking lot. But we can’t always wait to react when we see abusive treatment. One good thing about getting older is that we no longer care too much about being politically correct at all times, so we can speak up.
Everything we say and do has unending repercussions. You don’t want the responsibility of ruining the self-esteem of someone who has done nothing yet to injure you or of harming someone you’ve never even met. The wings of a butterfly stir the leaves of trees on the far side of the world, even as our deeds ripple out to affect generations yet unborn. Not all children are little angels, but we have the opportunity to help mold them while they can still be shaped, whether they are ours or not.
Everyone Chooses Their Own Path
The teen years often bring deliberate rebellion from which many kids never return. They don’t think they should be disciplined for unacceptable or selfish behavior. Yet if they’ve been taught the basics of good, humane actions, it’s all still there in their heads, leaving us with hope. And I acknowledge that too many teens flee a place of daily violence and sexual abuse, all too common in today’s world. Such parents don’t deserve to hear from their kids again.
Otherwise, the responsibility for the consequences of their actions rests firmly on the teen. Even little hellions must eventually grow up, with or without unnecessary detours into harmful activities. They need our prayers for their future.