There's Always a Reason Behind Acting Out
Dear Lance, I am concerned about my 6 year old. Whenever he is told "no" or doesn't get his way he responds by asking to run away, asking me to hurt him, or actually running out the door or doing something mildly painful to himself. At first I thought his behavior was purely manipulative, but it occurs so frequently that I am concerned he may have some real problems. Even during happy times he often comments "no one likes me", "no one wants to play with me", "you love brother more than me," etc. How can I know if he needs evaluation/treatment or if he is trying to get some reaction out of me?
I subscribe to a simple yet powerful philosophy written by noted child psychologist, Dr. Ross Greene, that "kids will do well if they can." So, when a child is exhibiting emotional or behavioral problems, there is typically a reason behind it and likely an area that is not as developed or functional. Even if the child was trying to manipulate (and I'm not so sure your child is doing that), the question would be, what is behind the manipulation and how can we help him to do well and act in a more functional way?
Children act out for a great variety of reasons. Behavior challenges can be based in present or past circumstances, depressive feelings, anxiety, social issues, self esteem, skill deficits, self-esteem, and academic difficulties, just to name a few. Flexibility is a skill and when some children hear "no" they have trouble effectively coping with their frustration. Additionally, many of these children (and some adults, too) have not developed the skills necessary to express the intensity of what they are feeling. Therefore, we may see this intensity in their behavior or in the statements they make.
If a child is repeatedly making statement about wanting to hurt himself or to be hurt, a conversation with a professional is strongly recommended. A professional can help determine if a full evaluation or treatment is necessary. You could start with the child's pediatrician or go straight to a mental health professional such as a psychologist or licensed professional counselor. Typically, a psychologist would meet with the parents first to get history and provide an initial consultation. In situations like this, my feeling is that getting more information and an outside opinion can only be helpful. If we don't really know what is going on with the child, how can we effectively address the problem? I'm also a believer in early intervention (when appropriate) before the child becomes more frustrated in his world.
Lance Halpern , Ed.S., LPC has over 20 years experience as a principal Special Education Consultant providing expert services for schools, attorneys, and individuals for school and education-related issues including administration, special education, sol evaluation, litigation support, and risk analysis. His experience as a Licensed Professional Counselor (specializing in child/adolescents) in the private setting, as well as his experience in the "trenches" of Special Education as a School Psychologist and a member of a Child Study Team has given him the ability to effectively aide parents and schools with programming needs. For more information, you can reach him at 732-740-6254 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org . Look for his column “Developmentally Speaking,” a weekly proactive parent advice column for parents in need of support and understanding in regards to the developmental challenges of raising a child. If you have any kind of parenting dilemma, contact him at email@example.com for guilt-free support, understanding, and advice that really works! Lance Halpern will offer his opinions and perspectives on a variety of child-related subjects. Please note that these opinions or views are not intended to treat or diagnose, nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed physician or mental health professional.