Some parents are guilty of burying their head in the sand when it comes to children’s behaviour issues. If parents fail to tackle problems, it can cause huge issues down the years. But why?
Poor behaviour is a sure sign that something is wrong. Children find it hard to explain how they are feeling, so they act out instead. All behaviour happens for a reason.
Parents who don’t know how to tackle the problem quickly and effectively, and allow issues to persist, may unwittingly set their child up for unhappiness in future life.
Common issues that, if they persist, can damage family life and children’s self-esteem
- If children fight and argue all the time, there is a serious issue of sibling jealousy developing which can ruin family life for years and sometimes decades.
- If a child won’t let a parent leave until they fall asleep there can be an anxiety issue brewing.
- If a child is rude or mean at home, or has loud angry outbursts, they are much more likely to have friendship issues, bully other children, and later in life, be mean or emotionally abusive to future adult partners.
- If one child is treated as the ‘naughty one’ or ‘devil child’, the child can become so entrenched in poor behaviour, they are more likely to fail educationally, or go off the rails in their teenage years, because they have learned to identify so strongly with being a ‘rebel.’
- A child who has too much screen time can become self-centred, demanding, irritable and develop an ‘addictive’ personality. They may find it difficult to relate to people, deal with conflict, or have fun doing anything other than playing on a screen. Screen time can steal a child’s goals and ambitions.
- A child who refuses to help may develop an ‘entitled’ personality, and become needy, demanding, selfish, and unhappy in life. Because they grow up expecting other people to ‘do’ things for them, to make them happy.
How a negative cycle develops
Parents may put up with poor behaviour for weeks, months and sometimes years, and don’t realise that every time the behaviour happens, it makes it more likely it will be repeated. Not only that, but destructive patterns of behaviour start to build in the family. The child is treated as a ‘problem’ and is shouted at, threatened or punished, as if they should know how to sort the issue out themselves. They don’t know how to do this, any more than the parent does, so a destructive cycle of conflict and blame is established that can continue throughout the child’s life.
Children don’t know how to stop behaving in negative ways. If they did, they would stop. They need their parents help to set up good boundaries and deal with the underlying issues that are causing the difficult behaviour. If the negative cycle persists, children start to believe that they are inadequate, damaged or useless and can develop self-loathing. They start to resist the efforts the parent makes to ‘control them’ and the parent finds they have to nag the child to do anything, rather than the child learning the self-control and choose to do the right thing.
The damage over-protectiveness can cause
There is another danger lurking, and that is when parents are over-protective. This can happen with an IVF or very-much-wanted baby, or where a child has had to deal with a difficulty such as severe illness, death of a parent, divorce or bullying. In an effort to make their life happier, parents do everything they can for their child and inadvertently treat them like a ‘victim’ to be protected. However, instead of being grateful and well-behaved, the child can become difficult, demanding, anxious or selfish. Once again, there are practical, easy steps that can remedy this, but parents can miss the signals and continue trying to make their child’s life as perfect as possible, thereby feeding the cycle, and reinforcing poor behaviour.
Changes in the brain ‘hard-wire’ negative behaviours.
Children’s brains are growing and developing. When a child persistently behaves in a negative way the brain lays down neural pathways that are strengthened every time they happen. After the age of 12, the brain ‘rewires.’ It strengthens certain neural pathways, and behaviour issues can become part of the child’s personality.
The issues brewing for the teenage years
As children go through their teenage years the effects of ignoring early issues become even more apparent. One of my most popular blogs, ’41 things you can do if your teenager steals from you’ has had over 500,000 visits. Teenagers who believe they are ‘entitled’ to other people’s belongings, are more likely to cheat in exams, experiment with drugs or get into trouble with the police. Because they aren’t able to tune in to their own internal moral compass.
Parents who consider themselves good parents are shocked when their teenager steals from them, is caught at school with drugs, holds a party in their home when they’re away, texts ‘plans’ to lose their virginity to a classmate, self-harms or develops an eating disorder. And yet, early warning signs when the child was younger were unwittingly ignored.
In addition, many parents continue to use shouting, threats and punishments to ‘control’ their child. Not realising that a good relationship with the child and positive discipline are crucial if the child is to learn self-control.
Why parents don’t tackle issues
Many ‘good’ parents don’t seek help, because:
- They don’t understand the damage of ignoring the problem on the child’s self-esteem confidence, mental health and future happiness if poor behaviour becomes ‘hard-wired.’
- They believe the issue is unsolvable. They think all children that age act that way or put it down to ‘a phase’ that the child will grow out of.
- They think parenting skills should be ‘instinctive’ and that they should just ‘know’ how to sort out problems. They resist the idea that parenting skills can be learned. Although they would go on work-related training, they don’t feel they should need training for the most important job they’ll ever do – raising their child.
- They don’t realise that ‘parenting coaches’ exist or that a ‘child behaviour expert’ can help them solve the issue. Or how a parenting course could help them.
- They don’t like seeking professional help. They would rather ignore the problem. A bit like men not going to the doctors. Seeking help feels more like a weakness than a strength.
- They don’t understand the value of the investment, and how learning to be the best parent they can be will benefit their child’s future well-being and happiness. Parents may spend a fortune on holidays, electronic gadgets or presents, yet resist learning the parenting skills that will make the biggest difference to their child’s happiness in life.
The earlier help is sought, the better
As a parenting coach, I see many good parents who realise they need help to tackle common childhood issues. If parents come to me when their children are toddlers, the issues are easiest to resolve, because the neural pathways aren’t strong. If they approach me when their children are aged 10 or under, it’s fairly easy to deal with problems. However, if parents approach me when their children are teenagers, a lot of poor habits may have persisted for years, and the issues are usually much more serious, and take longer to resolve.
When should parents seek professional help?
The most important thing to realise is that if children are acting up, parents should research how to deal with it at the earliest opportunity. Read books, search the internet and find effective solutions that resolve the problem.
If issues are serious or persist for more than a few weeks, it’s important parents seek help from a parenting coach or child behavioural expert. To learn the skills to tackle the problem, enable children to develop self-control, and set up habits that ensure a happy family life. Skills that will enable their child to thrive, bounce back from difficulties, grow up to be their best selves and, enable their children, when they grow up, to make a real difference in the world.
The damage of ignoring children’s poor behaviour can not only make family life a misery for everyone but can cause issues for a child throughout childhood, the teenage years and right into adult life. Which is not a risk most good parents would gamble on.
Elizabeth O’Shea BSc (Hons) is a parenting coach, author, speaker, child behaviour expert and the director of Parent 4 Success.
Her clients are busy parents who want to learn the best parenting skills, so their children grow up happy, well-behaved, resilient and able to make a real difference in the world.
Elizabeth lives in Horsham, West Sussex, and is one of the leading parenting specialists in the UK.