By Tamara Parnay
People talk about the “problem child,” but I’m not really sure what a problem child is.
According to the MSN Encarta online dictionary, a problem child is “a child who requires a disproportionate amount of attention or correction.” This definition leads me to ask a couple questions:
- Disproportionate to what? Both of my children sometimes need more attention than other children, and the intensity of their need for attention varies from one moment to the next.
- What is “correction”? Is this punishment and/or persistent behavior management and feedback (e.g. rewards) for acting “properly”? Correction implies there is something wrong with children. Is there? Or is there something wrong with our view of children?
Happy, confident, caring children grow up in an atmosphere of flexibility and trust, supported by respectful, empathic, and realistic parents who do not see challenging behaviors as indications that there is a problem with their children.
Adults and children share many of the behaviors considered to be problems when exhibited by children. Why, then, is there a “problem child” but not a “problem parent”?
The “Problem Parent” Self Assessment
Here is a light-hearted questionnaire designed to help you decide whether or not you might want to consider a “problem parent” label for yourself. If you can answer “yes” to any of these questions, you could label yourself, at those times, a “problem parent.”
Do you ever…
…talk with your mouth full?
…skip the broccoli but eat the ice cream?
…have trouble choosing what to wear?
…forget to say “please” or “thank you”?
…stay up past your bedtime?
…prefer not to sleep alone?
…forget to brush your teeth?
…break a bowl or plate?
…get food stains on your clothes?
…cry when upset?
…fidget when bored or nervous?
…become irritable when tired or ill?
…decide not to share your things?
…not come promptly when called?
…leave your clothes and things around?
…prefer playing or relaxing to doing chores?
…need repeated reminders?
…have trouble buying only essential items when shopping?
…speak too loudly?
…feel annoyed at being told what to do?
…have trouble getting along with others?
…avoid eye contact during heated moments?
…seek others’ undivided attention?
…become withdrawn when not getting the support you need?
…feel indignant when people don’t take your feelings or concerns seriously?
…enjoy having others serve you?
…need support when upset or scared?
…forget where you put something?
…forget to bring along your jacket?
…tell little lies to protect yourself from disapproval?
…get frustrated when not being given the benefit of the doubt?
…become frustrated when you can’t figure out how to do something?
…become adamant about doing or learning things in your own way, and in your own time?
…feel upset when you can’t meet others’ expectations?
…have trouble controlling your emotions?
…become irritable for no apparent reason?
…reject cuddles and kisses?
…walk away when lectured to?
…have difficulty saying “I’m sorry”?
…become uncomfortable when others talk about you in your presence, as if you were not there?
…feel stressed when rushed?
…react negatively to threats, bribes, or other forms of manipulation?
…get overwhelmed by complex instructions or explanations?
…become sad when you feel misunderstood?
…complain when you don’t get your way?
…complain when you have to sit in the car for a long time?
…complain when the weather isn’t cooperating with your plans?
…need reassurance that you are loved and valued?
I must confess to you that many of the above behaviors are sometimes true for me. If I am going to use the “problem child” label for my children, then if I am honest with myself and fair to my children — and if I have a sense of humor — I will also refer to myself as a “problem parent.”
Perhaps those self-acknowledged problem parents among us will be willing to share a label with all the “problem children” of the world? We can refer to ourselves, young and old, as “problem people.” Anyone care to join me? Or, better yet, let’s just agree to do away with the “problem” label. The label’s the problem, not the child.
After all, children and adults are very similar in so many ways. Dr. Seuss in Horton Hears a Who put it best: “People are people no matter how small.” True, parents are much older and have accumulated learning and life experiences, while children are fresh to the world and have so much to learn. But for us parents, the learning hasn’t stopped, and our children can offer us so much through their innocently insightful perspective. Parents can be there alongside their children as learning partners.
People of any age can be labelled as problems, but only if we choose to perceive them that way. So, I wonder, why create problems for ourselves?
Take This Self Assessment A Step Further
List your child’s behaviors that are of concern to you. Include any of those that you feel need to be corrected, whether they evoke a strongly negative response in you or not. Put a mark next to those behaviors that evoke a strongly negative response in you. Compare this list with your self assessment. Which behaviors do you share with your child? Do you share some of your child’s behaviors that you marked?
Other people, especially those closest to us, act as a mirror for us. Sometimes, we see in them things we like about ourselves. Sometimes, they reflect back to us aspects of ourselves that we don’t like. Thus, I need to ask myself: When I see what I like about myself in my child’s “mirror,” how do I respond to her? When I see what I don’t like, how do I respond to her? And I need to ask myself why I respond the ways I do. What can I learn about myself? Because our own children can be our most powerful mirrors, they offer us our greatest opportunities to learn and grow.
“If there is anything that we wish to change in the child, we should first examine it and see whether it is not something that could better be changed in ourselves.”
~ C.G. Jung, psychiatrist, in Integration of the Personality
24 thoughts on “Quiz: Are You a “Problem Parent?””
Wow, I did, like, half of those while I was reading the article! lol Great reminder to slow down, re-evaluate expectations, treat everyone as individuals and with respect, and understand that sometimes life is hard.
Rock on!! as I read, I kept thinking, ‘problem parent’… No you are talking ‘problem adult’ so I loved when you clarified in the end ‘problem people’. yes, the label is the ‘problem’. I teach parenting classes, and I focus on teaching parents how to stay self-regulated, calm and unconditionally connected to their children ‘no matter what’. it is always amazing how parents will ‘do’ to children what they cannot tolerate their children ‘doing’ to them. Thank you for your delightful, oh so true, essay.
Peace & Smiles,
Certified Parent Educator
Conscious Child-Raising Creating Cooperation and Peace
You obviously have normal children. Try living with a child who is ALWAYS angry and upset and argumentative. It is not easy.
Wow! I never thought I’d be writing this, but I wish I knew a was to “tweet” or “facebook” this article to my friends, family and clients and colleagues!
I loved the article and thought it was quite insightful. After all these years, you never cease to amaze me on the many life experiences and your wisdom (E.Q.).
I have no idea how to get in touch with you. I would love to reconnect. Craig and I still remember how much fun we had with you and your husband in New Zealand in 2000 when you lived next to the cemetery!
I only remember meeting your daughter when she was a baby, but I always new that all those years of teaching would make you a very open and compassionate parent.
Please e-mail sometime because I would love to catch up. I hope you get this or someone passes this along to you.
Debbie Sultan (your messy roommate from college SJSU ’85)
Yes- the behaviors listed are normal. I actually had a foster daughter for 18 months before she was eventually diagnosed with O.D.D. The thing that was hardest for us prior to diagnosis, was people deciding that my husband and I were the problem. Somehow we were deficient and if we could just love her enough, all our problems would go away (because they were obviously in our mind or a product of our mismanagment)…
There are some kids who have clinical, psychiatric issues related to behavior. Let’s please be understanding to those parents who try to approach everything with humor and relaxed standards only to find an angry, sullen, inappropriately defiant child on their hands. Not everything is a parent’s fault. Not everything can be ‘fixed’ by love… Anyone with a loved one with a psychiatric disorder can tell you that…
I only answered no to two of those questions, but I am a child at heart. I have always thought that the unruly children are that way because the parent is failing. Up to a point I blame all bad behaviors on the parents. Not the child that occasionally misbehaves, but the one that always misbehaves. I do know that for some children there are behavior issues that require more than just what a parent can provide, but if you don’t get that help and treat the child as a bad child then the parent is still failing. I know kids won’t always behave and will at times need extra attention, but they are kids that is how they learn.
I am really thankful to this topic because it really gives great information ‘:*
Excellent post!! I really like your site!!
You really make it seem so easy with your ppost!
Altough I understand the point this article there is one problem. I feel parents today come up with every excuse of why their child behaves a certain way and honestly some times you just have a kid who has been allowed to do what ever they want their entire lives and now there is a created “spoiled brat”. I understand that children have behavoirs and emotions but they also need to be taught that all emotions/behavoir is not acceptable at all times or places. I am a mother and I am far far from perfect but honestly I think a lot of todays problems are because kids are allowed to do what ever they want. excuses for lack of disapline is my opinion
THANK YOU! I get so tired of explaining to other parents who have “easy” children that my 2 youngest are “spirited”. They require MORE of EVERYTHING! They are not BAD children, and no we are not bad parents. I have a child from a previous marriage, and he was an “easy” child so I know that some are just born one way or the other. I get so frustrated when other people say “if you just …..”. If it were that easy, don’t they think we would? Our last 2 are bright, intelligent, persistent, very active and sensitive. They are also sweet, kind, loving and generous. I think when a child acts up in public, other adults assume your child is “bad” and/or you don’t know how to make your child behave. Why are adults so unkind towards children and babies? When my children are behaving and I see some other parent struggling with their child(ren) I smile and say something kind like “mine do that sometimes too” or “is there anything I can do to help, I’ve been there before”. Is it really that difficult to be kind and helpful rather than harsh and judgmental? Well, I really enjoyed reading this article and feel so much better knowing that others are in the same boat as I am, even if it is the Titanic (lol).
I agree with DMJ. When we see people acting.with road rage or over-excited after a drink, or needing a lot of attention because they are having a day, we dont say, “ugh, problem person.” We say oh they’re tipsy, or oh they’re angry, or oh they’re having a rough day. We as a societylove to make excuses, for everyone (I know a few undisciplined children too..) but less so for children, who dont always know they’re being (irresponsible, indignant, out of line, etc) as we do for adults, who should and do know better.
I love and hate this post. I love it because it is all true. I hate it because as a completely imperfect parent myself, who strives to be a calm, selfless, serene, open-minded, open-eyed, diplomatic, wonderful mother, I find things like this completely unhelpful. It doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its place and I’m glad you posted it. But I read so many idealogical articles that leave me thinking “Yeah! That’s so true! Things will change now!”… but in reality when it’s back to the daily grind and we have a bad day where the kids are being challenging left, right and centre and doing things that – however spirited and understandable – I just *can’t* let them carry on doing, then I find it incredibly tough to hang on to my ideals. Then the circle repeats and I read something else like this, written by an obviously great mother, it leaves me feeling guilty that I’m not evangelical enough and gives me something to strive towards again… and so on and so forth.
What I would find *really* helpful is if those who pen articles like this would also write more practical stuff to complement the idealogical. I’m not suggesting you should tell us how to parent because that is disempowering and often impossible. But I would love to see how you do it. I admire parents who can be so constantly kind and understanding to their children AND raise them wonderfully well. It’s what I strive to be, but instead of reading never-ending guilt-inducing blogs telling me why I’m doing stuff wrong, it would be great if I could also read blogs telling me how people get it right, on a practical blow-by-blow, day-by-day basis. The semantics of whether a child is unruly or spirited *is* important I agree, but at the same time when a child is being violent or destructive or screaming to get their own way or doing something that endangers themselves or others in some way… it’s obviously not something we can let them continue doing. Often distraction doesn’t work. Redirection doesn’t work. Gently explaining why we don’t do that doesn’t work. Taking a time out together and having a cuddle doesn’t work. Attempting to evoke empathy or sympathy doesn’t work. And you know when I try everything and nothing works, I sometimes lose my rag and end up shouting like a banshee. And it’s awful I know and then I read stuff like this and hear what a failure this makes me (even if it’s not what you’re trying to say, which I know you’re probably not).
I hope to see something that is more helpful on a practical level sometime soon, because I have to say I have never yet read or been given a piece of advice on the topic of parenting that has actually helped on a day to day basis.
AMEN Rachel!! I couldn’t have said it better myself!
Rachel you want to read “how to behave so your children will too” by dr sal severe
It is both the same philosophy and it gives practical advice
Also “logical consequences” by dreikurs and grey
This is all very well and good, but I wouldn’t consider any of these behaviours to be “problematic”. It’s just part of being a kid. What about dealing with angry and violent children? Where are the tips on THAT??!! I have two boys – one is loving & thoughtful and probably does every one of those things on the list. He is a joy. My other one has behavioural issues, mainly of anger. He doesn’t like to share, is confrontational, bosses, likes to get his own way and will hit, kick, punch and verbally abuse if the planets are not all aligned. He is hard work. There is no “right” way to parent as all kids are different.
I found this great food for thought, I know that I do these things sometimes, and my children do as well but that is not what they get “corrected” for. We need to teach our children that they have to respect us as parents, adults, teachers ….. The way my children react to our attempts of reasoning with them tells us whether they need to be “corrected”. Respect does not come naturally to children, it is something that has to be taught…. If they feel that they can do or say whatever they want whenever they want then they will be in big trouble when the get to school… I try never to “correct” out of anger, some things happen though that shock you and you have to react immediatly. My children are wonderful and loving very good children in school and at home (they are 5 and 6) both girls. But a few days ago after the bedtime routine went perfectly and everyone was in bed I hear a loud THUD and then crying… My children have bunkbeds(never has been a problem) I went in to investigate and My 6 year old said that her sister was hanging from the rail of her bed and she didnt like it so she pushed her hands off. I was like YOU DID WHAT!!!???!?!??! Situations like that need immediate correction and then discussion. Kids feel that they are the center of the universe unless we teach them that they should respect others and themselves. So I think this article while interesting and great food for thought, also is a bit unbalanced. Just in my opinion and experience : )
I wish we could look at kids as people. My husband can be angry and problematic…so can I at times. But he doesn’t get to discipline or teach me any more than I do him. Help your children, listen, give…more than you think you can…that’s what you signed up for!! It’s not about them…they are who they are and will be that for the rest of their lives!! Find out who they are and be the parent who they need…no excuses!! Of course it’s hard…the best parts of life challenge us! Our kids show up pure, innocent, eager, interested….don’t discipline that out of them!
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