Behavior Problems in Children: What to Do

While behavior problems in children are common, attitudes towards them are varied. Christian Counselors are often contacted by parents who are concerned by their children’s behavior.

Examples of common behavior problems in children include: talking back, lying, fighting, hitting, kicking, being disrespectful, and so on.

It can be exhausting to deal with behavior problems in children. Parents often feel angry and confused about their child’s behavior. It can be terrifying when you don’t understand what’s happening with your child, don’t know how to help, but feel totally responsible for making things better for them.

For example, how do you handle the situation when your child is having a meltdown? Or when they are sobbing inconsolably? Perhaps your child seems to react to the slightest thing and become aggressive, and you have no idea what to do in that situation. Children who don’t listen or refuse to comply with rules are equally difficult to deal with.

Counselors who deal with children with behavior problems and their parents consider the most important word associated with behavior problems in children is interpretation. This is because behavior is regarded as 90% about the way it’s interpreted.

Interpretation covers:

  • Why we think a behavior is happening
  • The level of control we think the child has over the behavior
  • How we think the child feels

Thinking and assuming are part of interpretation, and interpretation is not the same as understanding. This is one of the reasons why it’s important to engage in therapy with a Christian counselor. Therapy opens the door to move from assuming to understanding why your child is behaving in ways that you consider to be problematic. It also helps to decide whether the behavior is actually ‘normal’ or not.

A Christian counselor with experience in therapy with children and their parents has created a list of behaviors that parents regard as problems and the root feelings that are causing – or contributing to – the behavior.

Feelings Associated with Behaviors

Behavior Feelings Questions to Ask
Hoarding food;

Lying;

Stealing

Fear;

Shame;

A need to hide

Who or what is causing the fear?

What are they ashamed of other people knowing? What is causing their need to hide, or for what reason do they feel not good enough?

Talking back; hitting; kicking Anger What is causing the anger?
Sexualized Behavior Confusion Have they seen or experienced sexual behavior first hand?
Self-harm or putting themselves at risk Sadness What loss have they been enduring? Have they experienced harm or trauma?

For parents struggling to deal with their child’s difficulties, the principle question that needs to be considered is What is my child’s need that’s being unmet? When we talk about unmet needs, however, it’s important to remember that these are deep, emotional needs, not issues regarding toys or other material things.

Parents need to understand the issues that their child is wrestling with, and why they’re struggling. It may be that your child has something that they long to talk to someone about, but they don’t know how to express it. Similarly, children who are exposed to traumatic situations suffer confusion and it may be that their behavior is their way of trying to sort through the confusion – probably unsuccessfully.

The primary questions that bring parents to Christian family counselors are, “Why is my child behaving like this?” and “can you make it stop?” While these questions are important, in counseling it is beneficial to reframe the questions. Reframing is a way to take the concern and uncover the root issues and needs. The reframed question is often much more complex than the questions that bring parents to family counselors.

Most frequently, the root concern is more likely to be “Am I a bad parent since I can’t get my child to behave right?” It’s not uncommon for parents to see their child’s behavior as a reflection of their ability to raise children well. For family counselors, the next stage of therapy is to normalize the behaviors parents are seeing as problems and help to reduce the child’s need to display those problem behaviors.

Functional Behavioral Analysis

An important technique in helping parents and their children is Functional Behavioral Analysis (FBA). This is a method that is based on the idea that While every behavior has a cause, not all behaviors are interpreted in the same way. For example, a parent might approach a counselor and complain that their child is disrespectful because they couldn’t sit still throughout a movie. In the parent’s eyes, the child’s behavior was an intentional attempt to disrupt the enjoyment of the movie for the rest of the family.

Another example could be a parent who, in a therapy session with their child, remarks that the child doesn’t care and isn’t listening, on the basis of the fact that the child is sitting playing silently in the sandbox. In both situations, the parents are viewing their child’s behavior as disrespectful and wanting help to ‘correct’ this. However, FBA questions the evidence that the parent is basing their interpretation of the child’s behavior.

Here’s a reproduction of an FBA chart that visualizes a means of talking about these examples:

Behavior (bx) Possible Functions of the bx: Analysis
Child won’t stop moving While the movie is on A: Intentional disruption

OR

B: Moving to deal with anxiety or because of ADHD

My child is disruptive

OR

My child is anxious

Child playing in the sandbox during therapy session about their behavior. Child neither talking nor making eye-contact A: Child playing in the sandbox because they don’t care

OR

B: Child playing in the sand as a calming or coping mechanism, to deal with shyness or anxiety

My child is disrespectful

OR

My child is ashamed

It’s clear when looking at this Functional Behavioral Analysis chart that it’s possible to come to entirely different conclusions about the behavior when you consider the function of the behavior. It’s not always as clear cut as parents assume it to be, meaning that problem behaviors are not always problems but rather dysfunctional coping mechanisms.

Look deeper into the roots of the behavior and you might find, for example, that these two hypothetical children had both experienced a significant loss in the past year, such as the death of a family member or being abandoned by one parent. They might come from families with a history of trauma, where security wasn’t a certainty.

Children who are responsive to correction or who are compliant are children who have experienced an adequate level of empathy, warmth, and care that leads to feelings of security and trust in their caregiver.

When these things are less than adequate, or entirely absent, there is no such security and trust, and “problem” behaviors are a child’s way of dealing with their uncomfortable feelings. They don’t feel able to turn to their caregiver for comfort and regulation.

Issues to Consider

Therefore, when it comes to the question of “why is my child behaving like this?” there are issues that need to be considered before labeling a behavior as problematic:

1. Family of origin

Many children who end up in family therapy come from homes that are broken or dysfunctional. Often, they live with one parent, While the other parent has died, is in jail, has become an addict, or is otherwise absent. Children need caregivers who are available to meet their needs on a consistent basis, and in many cases, this is lacking.

2. Frequency of Play

How frequently does the child have the opportunity to play, and with whom? Children benefit considerably from play, particularly when their parent(s) get down on the floor with them and build with Legos and other toys. Similarly, children need the opportunity to play with other children and don’t do well when they’re forced to assume an adult role in the home.

Play is vital for a child’s development, particularly psychologically. Many parents see play as optional, but actually, it’s a necessity. Play helps children to develop self-esteem, creativity, self-awareness, self-regulation, patience, distress tolerance, and much more. Children with behavior problems often don’t have opportunities to play or have never had a parent play with them.

3. Control

What do they have control over? This is a massive determining factor in child behavior. Adults have control over a lot of things – such as where you go, what you do, what you eat, and so on – but children have much less control. Children are told what they have to do, where they have to go, what and how much to eat, what to wear – the list is endless.

In children whose problem behavior relates to bodily functions, it is sometimes the case that the child feels they have so little control in their life that they develop problem behaviors with their bodily functions because that’s one thing they do have control over.

In therapy, parents are taught the HALT technique before they assume that their child’s behavior is a problem. Is the child Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired? Think about your own behavior when you are affected by these feelings.

We excuse our own behavior due to tiredness but are less willing to attribute a child’s behavior in the same way. It’s really important to see whether HALT is causing unwanted behavior rather than jumping to the conclusion that the child is simply unpleasant.

4. Caregivers

What do the caregivers believe they know about parenting? As harsh as it sounds, parents can often have misconceptions about best practices in parenting, and this can impact on how they interpret their child’s behavior.

Questions to ask parents of children with behavior problems include their understanding of attachment styles, their parenting styles, the way a child’s brain functions when they’re having a tantrum, and how to discuss behavior with their child.

There are two really great resources that parents can use to build their knowledge and understanding:

  • The Whole Brain Child by Dan Siegel – which is available as a book, workbook, and video – helps parents to understand how to handle their child’s behavior.
  • Helping the Non-Compliant Child by Robert McMahon – which helps parents bring consistency into their relationship with their child and build the child’s self-awareness.

5. Environment

What is the child’s environment? A difficult issue to raise in therapy is the impact of socioeconomic status on stress levels within the family unit. Other environmental considerations might include families dealing with addiction, and families with a large number of children where kids have to compete for attention.

6. Family Relationships

What is the child’s relationship with family members like? An example of the impact of broken family relationships might be the parent who comes to therapy with a child who is depressed, anxious and is acting out at school, but who later reveals that the father has recently moved out. Young boys need a dad, and young girls need a mom. Problems often emerge when one parent is absent.

Siblings can also contribute to difficult behavior. Older siblings who bully or tease their younger siblings can cause the younger child to resort to bad behavior.

The question of whether a child’s behavior is normal is not easily answered. The best answer that a counselor can give is probably not the one that parents want to hear: it depends. There are a lot of factors that can influence behavior, so there’s no simple yes or no answer to the question of what is and isn’t normal.

If you want to help your child with their behavior, it’s necessary for you to have an open mind in order to explore the root causes and be willing to engage in education on family dynamics. Christian counselors can really help with gaining a full understanding of your child’s behavior and give you resources to help handle it.

Photos:
“Bali Girl”, Courtesy of Nuno Alberto, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Unsupervised”, Courtesy of Mike Fox, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Ahhh,” courtesy of Jelleke VanOoteghem, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Comfort”, Courtesy of Jordan Whitt, Unsplash.com, CC0 License

Eight Anger Management Tips for Men from Scripture

While many may say that we are much more civilized than the olden days when conflicts were settled by duals to the death, anger is still an issue that plagues many men worldwide. Road rage, bar room brawls, fights in the gym, domestic violence, and a verbal tirade in the workplace are just some examples of anger unchecked.

Though both men and women may suffer from anger issues, seeing such rage from men is often quite scary as they are often the ones inflicting much physical damage. This may then cause a domino effect of anger as other men may retaliate as well, leaving devastation in their wake, possibly hurting whoever is in their way.

Thankfully, Scripture contains much wisdom in helping people today deal with their daily struggles, including managing one’s anger.

Anger Management Tips from Scripture

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! – Galatians 5:22-23

In Galatians 5:22-23, Paul discusses the fruit of the spirit. If every man could fill himself with this fruit, then managing anger would not be a problem. So for those struggling with anger, it would be good to focus on and ask for such spiritual fruit.

Love

In Galatians, the love that is spoken of is a love for every person which stems from God’s loving presence in a person’s life. Such love means one should be concerned and compassionate towards others, and not indifferent or prejudiced. To have such love in one’s life means that you truly care about the people around you as they are a brother or sister in Christ.

Anger, however, comes from a place of pride and selfishness. Regular, uncontrollable anger against others means that one’s feelings are more important than those around. Only by becoming more loving can a man gain the wisdom and patience to deal with life’s frustrations.

Joy

While many may seek happiness, it is joy that allows one to see the positives in life despite the changing circumstances. But true spiritual joy can only occur when a person is focused on God, trusting in Him as our loving Father, provider, and protector.

In order to control one’s anger, a person needs to choose joy, knowing that our life is blessed as a child of God. When this is done, a man’s mental energy is diverted towards what is positive and not the negative things causing such anger.

Peace

Out of all of the fruits of the spirit, peace is the most antithetical to anger. When one has peace, it means that despite the circumstances, anger is not present. Such peace, however, only comes from God.

Left to ourselves, anger, frustration, and disappointment are the usual responses to situations that do not go our way. But with God’s help, this can be overcome. So rather than praying to not be angry, pray instead for peace in the heart and mind.

Patience

Anger usually does not exist alone. It is often the result of another emotion such as sadness, embarrassment, disgust, or frustration which arises from a particular event in a person’s life. Patience is the spiritual fruit that allows one to prevent such primary emotions from igniting anger. So when a man has patience, he is able to first address and control the initial emotion so that anger is not required to defend his hurt ego.

Patience, however, requires much practice and prayer to perfect. This starts with first contemplating on the areas in one’s life where more control is needed (e.g. budget discussions with the wife, dealing with misbehaving kids, disappointment with employees). Also, a man should be willing to humble himself when patience runs out and continuously pray for more.

Kindness

One way to remove internal anger is to fill life with positives. By focusing on acts of kindness, a man can feel better about himself and the people around them. Thus, in times of disappointment or frustration, it is hoped that the positives within will overpower the negatives stemming from the situation, preventing anger.

Contrary to what the media usually presents, kindness does require grand gestures towards others. Small, daily acts of kindness, such as a smile or a helping hand, can already change a person’s outlook towards life. But when dealing with difficult people or tough situations, it helps to ask God for the strength to be kind. Kindness is a spiritual fruit that blesses both the giver and the receiver.

Goodness

For many men, their anger stems from not achieving their desired goals in life. Thus, when they fail to impress or succeed, they become angry – first at themselves, and then at others.

The way to counteract this is to focus on the good things in every aspect of his life. Though our life on earth can never be perfect, there is still much good to be thankful for. Goodness also means purposely living a good life so that there is no need for shame, guilt, or regret. While it may be difficult at times to always be or do “good,” with Christ’s help, it is possible.

Faithfulness

One fruit that everyone needs today is faithfulness. Sadly, because of all the options presented and because of the various bad examples by people around us, it is difficult now for people to stay committed, which is often a cause of much anger or situations leading to anger. This faithfulness, however, is not just about romantic relationships (though particularly in marriage it is very important!); it is about following through on all commitments a person may give to others or to God.

In Matthew 5:37, Jesus advised, “Just say a simple, ‘Yes, I will,’ or ‘No, I won’t.’ Anything beyond this is from the evil one.” Thus, whether the situation is about work, investments, friendship, love, or service to God; a man needs to fulfill his obligations to prevent untoward incidents that may lead to anger.

Gentleness

One definition or idea of gentleness is power under control. Men who are always angry allow their power to run wild, hurting others, verbally or physically. With gentleness, a man willingly holds back to make things safer for others.

Similar to patience, this requires much practice; but it can be done. When approaching possibly heated conversations or dealing with particularly testy people, for example, gentleness should always be at the front of one’s mind. If so, it will be easier to maintain composure and avoid anger.

Self-control

Self-control is the final fruit. With self-control, a man will be able to manage his response to antagonistic situations. However, to truly have self-control, the other spiritual fruits need to be present and the divine help of the Holy Spirit must be there as well. Without them, trying to manage one’s anger will be very, very difficult indeed.

Prayer and practice of self-control together with the other spiritual fruits are necessary for this fruit to be achieved.

Making Use of the Fruits

In order to use these spiritual fruits to control anger, a man has to first look within to determine the underlying cause. Is it bitterness? Pain? Sadness? Is this triggered because of certain people or certain situations?

Once the cause or causes have been pinpointed, he may then check which spiritual fruits can help manage the situation. Are more patience and love required? Are faithfulness and gentleness the best solutions?

When those have been identified, prayer must begin in earnestness to ask God for the spiritual fruits to combat the causes and the anger response. The process will take time so a man needs to be patient with himself if he cannot change immediately.

Know that God is always listening and that the Holy Spirit is beginning to work on that change within. Simply asking for that change through prayer is a sign that the process has begun.

Further Help Through Christian Counseling

In some cases, anger has severely damaged a man’s family and social life so much that the situation seems hopeless. In such scenarios, Christian counseling can help that man get his life back on track, especially when unearthing the true causes behind the anger.

Your Christian counselor can also help in reconnecting the person with God through prayer and the reading of Scripture as it may have been years since such activities have been done.

Anger should never be in control of a man’s life. If you or a friend believes that anger management is a big concern, then seek help soon.

Photos:
“Angry Enough to Kill”, Courtesy of WenPHotos, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Free”, Courtesy of Zac Durant, Unsplash.com; CC0 License; “Seeking Human Kindness”, Courtesy of Matt Collamer, Unsplash.com; CC0 License; “Studying,” courtesy of Patrick Denker, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0)