“What have we done wrong as parents?”
“Did I cause this?”
Or even worse, “Why can’t they just discipline their kid better?”
The first two are phrases I hear from parents I work with whose children suffer from a mental illness. The latter is something I hear from other people who just don’t seem to get it. Around one in five children suffer from mental illness (http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/su6202a1.htm). This can be anything from depression, ADHD, anxiety, OCD, and more. Some mental illnesses are caused by the environment, some genetics, and some a combination. Too often though, I think we want to blame the parents (or ourselves).
I am a parent of children with mental illness and have worked with tons of kids with mental illness. I can say with certainty that sometimes suffering from a mental disorder is purely from a genetics. With these kids, what works for many other kids in terms of discipline, support, and rewards will not work. For example, my son has trouble with anxiety. We have tried traditional behavior charts with him but this has only led to increased anxiety. Instead of punishing him for this, we have adjusted our system. It has taken a lot of trial and error (and we’re not quite there yet). This causes embarrassment at times. When he acts out (screaming, yelling, throwing himself on the floor) in public, I know I’m being judged. The stares and whispers say it all. I also know my clients and their parents feel they are being judged as they have shared their experiences with me.
I beg everyone to think twice next time they see a child acting out. Sometimes all I can do is let my kid finish his tantrum (even though he seems too old for tantrums). Sometimes I need a smile to know that you understand I’m doing my best. Because I am. Most of us are just trying to do our best.
Stefanie F. Pisarkiewicz, LPC
Experience and information from a counselor and mother- sharing her two cents on children and teens.