An absolutely true story from my ever-growing "True Stories of Psychobabble" file, told to me by the mother of the child in question:
A 6-year-old boy was disruptive at school and rebellious at home. Toward both parents and teacher he was disobedient, disruptive, defiant, disrespectful and all the other horribly anti-social things today's children do so well. After several school conferences, the parents agreed to see a psychologist for an evaluation. After extensive testing, the psychologist told the parents their son was afflicted with attention deficit disorder (ADD), which he described as a gene-based malady that greatly hindered the boy's ability to control his impulses. He recommended medication and individual therapy, the latter for the purpose of helping the boy "sort out his conflicts."
On the way home from the psychologist's office, the mother turned to the father and said, "I don't think Jeremy (not his real name) has ADD. I think he's just plain old B.A.D." The parents took the situation in hand (somewhat literally) and within four weeks, the child's BAD ADD had been cured.
Fancy that! A defective gene repaired by old-fashioned discipline! Wonders never cease.
Picky, picky, picky:There's a solution
A mother recently asked my advice about a 5-year-old picky eater. She wrapped up her description of the child's bad manners (that's what so-called "picky eating" is, after all) by saying she didn't want to put too much pressure on her daughter to eat what was put in front of her because she didn't want her to develop an eating disorder.
I thought about that for a moment and replied, "You know, it occurs to me that one never heard of children developing eating disorders in the days when they were told they couldn't leave the table until they'd finished everything on their plates because children were starving in other countries."
It subsequently occurred to me that the problems today's teachers often deal with (see above) were virtually non-existent when misbehaving children were punished instead of sent to psychologists.
Determine differencebetween statements
A 5-year-old girl, when sent to her room for punishment, can be heard talking about her parents in highly disrespectful language. The father asked what they should do about it. I asked how they were able to hear her. Why, the father told me, they have a monitor in her room. Interesting. I thought such things were called "infant" monitors. What, pray tell, is a monitor doing in a 5-year-old's room? Never mind. My brilliant solution to this most perplexing problem: Take the monitor out of her room. What you don't know won't hurt you.
Is it disrespectful for a child to yell "I hate you!" at a parent? Most people, it seems, think so. I don't. The difference between a disrespectful statement and a harmless emotional outburst is whether it begins with "You" or "I." For example, the statement "You are a jerk!" is clearly disrespectful because it refers to a second party. If the speaker is a child and the second party is a parent, punishment is called for. But "I hate you!" does not refer to the parent. It clearly refers to the child, and the child alone. It is an expression of the child's feelings at the moment.
Therefore, it merits a shrug of the shoulders and perhaps a statement such as: "Well, I'd probably hate me too right now if I were you. Not a problem, sweetheart, and by the way, I love you!" At which point it would be in everyone's best interest if the parent walked away, whistling. The more attention such outbursts are given, the worse they become, to the point where the child is in danger of truly beginning to believe he/she really and truly does hate the parent.
If, however, a child screams "I hate you!" at a parent in a public venue, then punishment is indeed merited. Not for yelling "I hate you!" but rather for disturbing the public peace with a private matter.
XJohn Rosemond is a family psychologist. Questions of general interest may be sent to him at Affirmative Parenting, 1020 East 86th Street, Suite 26B, Indianapolis, IN 46240 and at his Web site: http://www.rosemond.com/).