Being a parent is the most difficult job in the world. I am a parent. I am also a family therapist who has counseled parents for over twenty eight years. I realize the significance of the title of mother or father. When taken seriously, the role of parents takes more energy and commitment than anything else I can think of. Being concerned about our children, we are always on the look out for any problems that our children may have. We want to find the balance between seeing every issue as an indication of disturbance, and ignoring the danger signals, in the hope that the youngster will “grow out of it.”
Let’s take a look at a hypothetical situation and ask some questions. Ronald is eleven years old and evidences angry behavior. He hits his younger sister and gives her a hard time. We already have the first bit of important information, Ronald’s age. Although they are not absolute measures, there are guild lines and age ranges for development and age appropriate behavior. The next question I would ask, if Ronald were referred to me for treatment is “How long has this behavior been evidenced?” Children naturally go through phases. One day’s problem is the next day’s ancient history.
The next question is “How is Ronald functioning in the following areas?”:
With his parents?
With his peers?
Has anything unusual or significant occurred recently (i.e. a birth, a marriage, a death, etc.)? The key to evaluation is intensity and duration. That is, how dramatic is any behavior or personality shift, and how long have the changes been present?
Based on these preliminary questions, there are usually three possibilities:
Treatment is not indicated at this time. This might be the answer if the problems are not particularly dramatic, but just mildly annoying. The behavior seems to be age-appropriate and just a normal part of growing up.
Therapy is indicated. A combination of individual treatment for the child, and individual counseling for the parent is warranted. Rarely do I recommend that the child be seen exclusively. Effective treatment occurs when the child’s specific conflicts are dealt with and the additional resources of the parent are also enlisted.
This involves the education of the parent in “parent management” skills. I advise this psycho-educational process when emotionally charged issued can be resolved by teaching the parent alternative coping skills for effectively handling various situations and areas of communication.
To properly assess the need for, and type of treatment, the therapist must begin by meeting with the parent and evaluating the youngster. Therapy is, in the final analysis, as much an art as it is a science. There are no absolute answers or guidelines. Therapy must be an individualized process.
What I have suggested is a general perspective and perhaps food for thought. Being interested in your child is an important factor in his/her development. Always ask the question and care. Listen to the answers and you have a running start.