They are learning:
- what is appropriate
- sharing and turn-taking
- how to get along with others
- ways to get what they want and need
- how to get attention
- how to handle their emotions and drives
…and all that learning takes time, and they make lots of mistakes on the way. Those mistakes sometimes strike us as ‘naughtiness’ but it is far more helpful to think of it in terms of immaturity. Good parenting techniques help a lot but sometimes parents have to deal with something more than just immature impulse control. One of the most frequent reasons parents need the services of a child psychologist is ‘Conduct Disorder’. Children with a conduct disorder don’t just have an occasional slip up in their behaviour, they actually seem completely unable to grasp or follow the rules at home, school or in society.
Conduct disorders, as opposed to ‘normal’ behavioural issues are:
- Long lasting
- Disruptive to family or school life
- Impacts others negatively
Their behaviour is often violent and destructive, and often they have very little empathy for those they hurt. There is no simple answer to why children get like this – brain damage, genes, a disturbed childhood… any and all of these might be the cause. There are various types of conduct disorders so getting a good diagnosis from a specialist helps immensely, for three main reasons
- You can start the proper therapy. Both drugs and psychotherapy can have good results
- Schools and agencies can roll out the extra support that both the child and parents are going to need
- Dealing with conduct disorder as a medical issue instead of just treating them as a ‘naughty kid’ gives you so much more compassion and energy to persevere. Treating it this way seems to reduce the impact and distress of their behaviour.
‘Bad’ parenting doesn’t cause a conduct disorder but good parenting can certainly help reduce its effects. A child will be safer from the drugs, dangerous sexual behaviour and self-harm. Good close parenting can also help insulate a child from the one thing that can really cause the disturbing behaviour to skyrocket, and that is falling in with other kids who are already ‘trouble’. So, along with whatever else the specialist might prescribe, give a child with conduct disorder lots and lots of consistency, nurture, good supervision, clear boundaries, love and wise discipline. It all helps nudge the troubled child in the right direction and really reduces symptoms and disturbing behaviour.