If there is Chaos in a Child’s Life, Behavior Problems Could Result
Brenton is a real terror in kindergarten. He often tears around the room throwing books on the floor and taking crayons or toys from other children. When given a direction by a teacher, he doesn’t comply – and seems to see the directions and commands from his teacher as funny and something to be ignored.
After the first month of school, he was referred to a psychologist for an evaluation to learn more about what his teacher could do to reduce his behavior problems and bring about more compliance.
When the psychologist interviewed his parents, she found out that both of his maternal grandparents lived in the home, along with his older sister, her boyfriend, and their baby. The psychologist also learned that his grandparents always had the television in the living room turned on – literally 24 hours a day. No one in the family could escape the background noise and the interference that came abut as a result of the constant barrage of TV shows.
The psychologist in her report didn’t blame the fact that Brenton’s home was overcrowded or that there was a TV on all the time for the boy’s behavior problems at school. However, she did point out that these two things could be related to Brenton’s behavior problems.
The psychologist who assessed Brenton may have been aware of the research on chaos and children.
Research by psychologists, particularly studies done in the past 10 years, has implicated a type of home environment in behavior problems and academic difficulties of children. And that is the chaotic household.
Studies have shown that household chaos is linked to behavior problems as well as poorer cognition, and children’s decreased ability to regulate themselves.
Developmental psychologists say that a home that is noisy, crowded, features family instability, lacks routines, and has the TV on all the time is a chaotic home. Having the TV on all the time contributes to a disruptive influence on children in some homes. But if there are other aspects of chaos, in addition to the TV constantly turned on, then the risk to children is increased.
In 2006 a study published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry indicated that there is a strong link between the chaos in a home and children’s behavior problems. And another study, published in the same journal three years later, confirmed that there is indeed a link between chaos and both conduct problems and a lower IQ in children.
More recently, in the journal Early Child Development and Care, it was found that in homes where there is a lack of routines children tend to score lower on receptive vocabulary tests and have less ability to delay gratification. This study zeroed in on having a television always turned on and found that children who live in families in which the TV is always on score higher on aggression and have more attention problems. It seems very clear from other studies that young children exposed to daily doses of television appear to be at considerable risk for attention problems.
Obviously, not every home in which young children are allowed to watch television is chaotic. However, there is much to be learned from the chaos research.
Chaos, in all of its forms, according to the accumulating research on chaos, has a detrimental effect on young children. This means that you should evaluate your home to see if any of the aspects of chaos are in play.
Is there too much noise in your home? Are there too many people living in your home? Is there too much instability? Is there a lack of structure and routines? And is the TV on too much of the time?
By eliminating as many aspects of chaos as you can, you will be contributing to some important strengths in your children. As indicated in the research cited in this column, reduce the chaos and you are likely to improve your child’s behavior, give him or her the ability to increase their IQ, reduce their aggression, increase their attention span, and improve their receptive vocabulary.
What Should You Do if Your Teenager is in an Abusive Relationship?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have called teen dating abuse a serious problem in the United States. Research suggests that at least one in four adolescents experience verbal, physical, emotional, or sexual abuse during dates each year. Nearly one out of every 10 high school students say they’ve been physically hurt by someone they were dating.
I frequently hear from parents who are aware their teenager – often a daughter – is being abused by a date. For instance, Roberta revealed her concern about her 16-year-old daughter Elaine. “Elaine has been going out with a boy for several months,” Roberta explained, “and I know they’ve had many arguments. However, this boy has a terrible temper and he’s hit her more than once.
“She told me about him getting angry with her and hitting her, but when I told her she needed to break up with him Elaine said she tried but couldn’t do it. The boy always tells her he’s sorry and he says that if they break up he’ll kill himself because he can’t live without her. Elaine feels bad for him and always thinks things will get better.”
Roberta went on to say that Elaine has now stopped telling her about her boyfriend’s anger. “She probably knows I’ll tell her to stop going out with him,” Roberta said. “But I don’t know how I can help her at this point. I hate to think of her being abused and manipulated by her boyfriend.”
What both Elaine and Roberta are experiencing is not unusual. Dating abuse can include shoving and hitting, but can also take the form of yelling, name-calling, manipulation, and possessiveness. Often a date who is abusive can make the other person feel guilty if they try to break up with them.
When parents, like Roberta, try to intervene, they often are shut out as the teen begins to be more secretive about what’s really going on in the relationship. The reason for this, as Roberta discovered, is that the teen doesn’t want to be told they should break off the relationship. Furthermore, adolescents in an abusive relationship are embarrassed or ashamed about the abuse they’re experiencing — or they are convinced it is their fault they are being abused.
However, dating abuse has a negative and often long-lasting effect on individuals. Teenagers who are abused are more likely to do poorly in school. They may engage in unhealthy behaviors, like drug and alcohol use. Not infrequently, abused teens carry the patterns of violence into future relationships. Research indicates that abused teens are three times more likely than their non-abused peers to experience violence during college.
But what can parents do?
Prevention is always the best goal. You can promote healthy relationships while your child is growing up prior to adolescence. Prevention can start with you treating your child in a manner that promotes self-respect and self-esteem. Make sure your child grows up believing that no one has a right to hit or control her.
Throughout your child’s life, but especially during the adolescent years, listen to your child. Pay attention to what goes on in peer relationships and help her learn to be assertive and learn to avoid abusive relationships.
If you suspect your adolescent is in an abusive or violent relationship, let your child know you are there to help, not to judge. You can be helpful if you focus on your child and her feelings rather than on the person she is dating. Tell her you care about her and want to help, but don’t rush in to tell her what she should do. By quickly advising her to break up with an abuser places her in a conflict that may be difficult for her to resolve. She will feel torn between what you want her to do and what her abuser wants her to do.
Finally, be supportive of your teen’s decisions. However, if she chooses to continue to date an abuser, she may need to talk to someone who is more objective, such as a mental health professional.
Effective Supervision a Key to Successful Parenting
A key to raising children successfully is to exercise appropriate amounts of monitoring and supervising of their behavior and activities. Do too little supervision and you risk being an indulgent and overly lax parent; do too much supervision and you become an excessively strict and repressive parent. Neither extreme leads to good results with children.
But striking the right balance in monitoring and supervision can help you achieve that balance – and, of course, you will do a good job of keeping track of where your child is and what she is doing. That, research has shown, is important in being a successful parent.
But how can you monitor your child effectively?
You may have learned in a writing or journalism class somewhere along the line that a lead paragraph, particularly in news writing, needs to answer five basic questions: Who? What? When? Where? and Why? These questions can serve you well in supervising your child. However, I would add one more question: How?
● Who? You should ask a simple question, such as “Who are you going to be with?” Find out who your child will be hanging around with and learn something about her friends. While you are at it, find out something about her friend’s parents or other adults who will be providing supervision.
● What? You should ask: “What are you going to be doing?” Find out what she and her friends are planning and learn the details of what she says she will be doing. Should she be doing this? Has it been carefully thought through or carefully planned? If not, you may have to get involved and help her plan more carefully.
● When? You should ask: “When are you leaving and when are you coming back?” You’re not being nosy, this is just another important questions competent parents ask. Your child has a responsibility to let you know when she’s leaving and when she will return home. You deserve to know this as a parent.
● Where? You should ask: “Where exactly are you going?” Can she tell you where she’s going to be? Does she have a phone number or an address to give you in case you need to reach her while she is out? If she can’t provide you with specific details about where she will be and how you can reach her, you may have second thoughts about allowing her to go.
● Why? You should ask: “Why are you doing this activity?” Does it have a worthwhile purpose? Is it safe? Is it likely to put her in a too-risky situation? You have to use your intuition and judgment to make a decision about whether her stated purpose is reasonable and something you can allow.
● How? You should ask: “How are you going to get there and get back?” Is she going to be with a responsible driver? Is the person doing the driving someone you know and can agree is a safe driver? Is it someone who has been known to drink and drive? Is there a safe way for her to get home on time? Again, if you don’t like your child’s answers to these questions, then you may have to set some limits.
Adequately supervising a child, particularly a teenager means you must clarify your expectations. Let her know exactly what you expect (that she will be where she says she is going, for instance) and what the rules and limits are.
These questions I’m suggesting do not mean that children don’t have choices or that you are controlling all of their activities. It does mean that you demand that your child act in a responsible way, that she knows what the rules and expectations are, and that you fully expect her to agree to live up to these rules and expectations.
Why is all of this important?
It’s simple. When you monitor and closely supervise your child, there’s less chance that she will be involved in risky, unwise, or unsafe behavior. And in the long run, she learns to be a responsible individual who thinks carefully about her choices.
When is Rough Play Healthy and When is it Aggression which Must be Addressed?
When my son was in elementary school, he came home from the bus stop one afternoon with a bloody nose. It turned out that another boy at the bus stop had punched Jason and broke his nose. My immediate reaction was to find out who did this to my beautiful boy and sue that boy’s parents.
After thinking about this for a day and getting a second version of the story from another child who was at the bus stop, I changed my mind.
It seemed that Jason was not exactly an innocent bystander in this situation. He had made an offensive remark to the other boy and that boy took exception to what my son said – and registered his complaint with his fists. As I thought about it, I knew this was a poor way for this other boy to respond. But I also knew that Jason also needed to learn to keep his mouth shut sometimes.
I realized that intervening was not going to help Jason learn how to get along with others. Nor could I go to the bus stop every day to protect him. He’d have to learn on his own. So I commiserated with Jason and he went back to school and the bus stop the next day. And that was the last time he ever got into a fight with anyone. Jason is now an adult who is very adept at using words and gets along well with everyone who meets him.
I’m frequently reminded of this incident when parents contact me about problems their children have at school. The tendency for many parents is to get involved – just as my first impulse was to do something about Jason getting punched. But I warn parents that while there are bullies in schools – and at bus stops – often when children get into altercations with others there’s not only two sides to the story but physical interactions between children are not only inevitable but are in many ways healthy.
Unfortunately, we live in a world where we’re all a bit overly sensitive to violence and any indications of aggression are immediately viewed as something to be stamped out – whether it is seen in our own child or in others. Schools administrators, who should know better, adopt zero tolerance policies and school staff – teachers and secretaries — often believe that any sign of aggression in children is a signal of psychological pathology.
But quite the opposite is true. And if we didn’t know this from our own experiences as children, we all should know this from the research that has accumulated over the past few decades. There is a difference between real aggression and aggressive bullying, both of which deserve our attention, and play that is rough and tumble.
Rough and tumble play usually involves running, tagging, pushing, chasing, wrestling – occasionally hitting. Aggressive play involves a serious intent to hurt another child (or animal) and is usually behavior that is truly violent. Violent and aggressive behavior is often found in children who do not connect or attach well with others.
On the other hand, the importance of rough and tumble play is that children learn self-regulation, setting limits for themselves, mastering their impulses, resolving conflicts in appropriate ways, and controlling aggression in play by trial and error over time.
Just as Jason learned a valuable lesson about social interaction, children who engage in rough and tumble play learn about the give-and-take of appropriate social interaction. In effect, through rougher play, kids become more adept at both signaling and detecting signals, which are social skills they will need and use throughout life.
Rough and tumble play supports cardiovascular health, but even more significantly it seems to actually bring about changes in the brain. Pellis and Pellis, Canadian neuroscientists, point out that play fighting in both children and animals can lead to organizational changes in the brain, especially those areas involved in social behavior.
In other words, rough play in childhood provides children with the social knowledge needed for successful future relationships. And it’s our job to make sure that children have opportunities for rough and tumble play and not be so quick to label all rough play as aggressive behavior.
If Your Young Child Lies, Will He Become a Pathological Liar?
When three-year-old Kelsey’s mother asked her why there was juice on the floor, Kelsey said, “I don’t know.”
Four-year-old Murray was asked by his dad if he had been using the hammer and if he knew where it was. “I wasn’t using it,” Murray replied.
Jenny, age five, told her mother she didn’t know who broke the glass that was found in the trash container under the kitchen sink. “Did you break it?” her mother asked. “No,” Jenny said.
Each of these children told an untruth. But child psychologists who study the development of children say that all children are like Kelsey, Murray, and Jenny. That is, all children lie.
Does this mean that all children are liars or that they will turn into pathological liars?
Certainly not. In fact, developmental psychologists say that as children grow older their lying is often a cognitive signal that children understand what others are thinking.
However, kids first begin lying around age three. Their ability to deliberately tell a lie is a result of their increased language development and greater understanding of their parent’s rules, along with better understanding of the consequences for breaking those rules.
So, when Kelsey says she doesn’t know how the orange juice got spilled on the floor, she is lying in order to escape censure or punishment for spilling juice – an offense she knows will bring disapproval and possibly punishment. But at this age, Kelsey is not aware of the morality of the situation, except in a broad sense that she knows that both spilling juice and lying are both wrong. However, in her eyes, it might be better to avoid trouble and the lie is worth it.
It’s also during the later toddler stages that children enjoy exploring their newly discovered mental playground. That is, just as they get a kick out of exploring various spaces at home or the playground equipment at the park, they also enjoy using their mental abilities and the language that goes with those abilities.
For example, 30-month-old Nick when asked how old he is by his grandmother says he is three. Or, when this same grandmother asks him his dog’s name, he says “George” (even though he knows very well his dog is named Ike). It’s fun for children of this age to see what will happen when they change things or play around with words. These are lies, of course, but no one takes them seriously.
Parents and other caregivers are more likely to take a young child’s lies more seriously if they seem to be deliberate efforts to avoid accepting responsibility.
The lies and mistruths uttered by young children are complicated by their parents’ moral guidance. If you are a typical parent, you tell your child that lying is wrong and she should always tell the truth. However, when your child becomes four, they will catch you in lies.
For example, Murray heard his mother tell a friend that she loved the sweater the friend had given her as a gift. But moments before this, Murray heard his mother complain that the sweater was the wrong color for her and the sleeves didn’t hang right.
When Murray told his mother she lied, his mother said that she didn’t want to hurt her friend’s feelings. “It was a white lie,” his mother told him. “I told her I loved it because I didn’t want to hurt her feelings.”
While this may be confusing to toddlers, by the time a child is four or four-and-a-half, he can see that there are “good lies,” the so-called little white lies, and bad lies, lies that are just meant to deceive and are not related to saving anyone else’s feelings.
If you can keep the developmental aspect of lying in perspective, you are less likely to be alarmed when your child lies. Few children will grow up to be pathological liars. However, if your child is lying too often after age four and their lies are to avoid punishment, then you should make sure that your expectations for their behavior are not too exacting or that your punishment for misbehaviors is not too punitive or harsh.