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Child Behavior Problems? Time For "Tough Love"

Updated: Mar 1, 2020

by: Logan Cohen - Professional Therapist & Online Life Coach

Parenting is NO JOKE! After I Lived In The Woods for 3 years working with teenagers who had serious behavior problems resulting from psychiatric illness and/or trauma (you can read more about that wild ride here), I thought that was as hard as it would get. I figured, “I didn’t lose my mind out there on the many days that Johnny was having an "episode" and decided I was the PERFECT target for his anger outbursts, so I’ll be good to GO when I have my own kids, right?” Well, I can tell you now 13 years later that even as a Professional Therapist with access to all of the parenting tips and tricks in the World, it is just DIFFERENT. While I have seen just about every “play in the book”, the plays tug at the heartstrings differently when they are literally attached to our own heart.

Parenting Tips Will Do Little Without A Balanced Approach

This gets even trickier with how FAST the pace of Life seems to be these days. When I was a kid, there were no cell-phones. We charged around in small groups on our bikes in neighborhoods (in the relatively dense urban Atlanta no less), and literally went home when the fireflies came out. We survived and are better off for it. As I say it like that (and after I get over feeling like an Old Man), it is easy to see why Parenting is so hard these days...the faster pace makes it harder to maintain Balance.

The pace of Life has moved SO quickly in this last generation that most of us Parents have NO IDEA how to structure or limit access to modern everyday tools that we DID NOT grow up with.

Do you remember how AWFUL Middle School felt? I do. I COULD NOT imagine going through that again, and much less with everybody having constant access to a personal computer in their pocket, AKA a “cell phone” that can be used to do all of the malicious things teenagers routinely do to each other while they test personal limits. Do you remember those awful social situations as a kid where someone got horrifically targeted? Chances are, you got to have at least one of them yourself. What if that incident was recorded, then that video was posted all over the social media feeds that your friends scrolled through for their daily check-ins and gossip? See what I mean by no acute "parenting tip" in the world being able to help here? The types of behavioral and emotional issues seen with Children today require a more pervasive approach. Could you imagine how much more INTENSE that would seem to a teenager who (and they ALL are) is already watching Him/Herself under a critical microscope?

Child Behavior Problems and Emotional Issues Now Require More Support

I remember when the movie 13 Reasons Why came out not because I saw it (at least at first), but because as a Family Therapist, Parents came to my office and were SCARED OUT OF THEIR MINDS by what they saw! 19 out of 20 Parents proclaimed that, “This is inappropriate and shouldn’t even be in theaters for teenagers to watch!” Of course I hadn't seen the movie at that point, so I would ask the Parent to describe what they took offense to and as they did, I heard just the same stories that teenagers have been telling me as their Therapist and Counselor for over a decade.

What those Parents didn’t know is that the movie 13 Reasons Why is actually an accurate depiction of a modern, technologically infused example of systemic bullying that was made possible by the rich athletic kids being favored. While the themes of the movie are familiar, albeit quite sad, the SCARY and DANGEROUS part is how QUICKLY information can be mobilized to do harm. And after harm is done, all of the "parenting tips" in the World can't undue the pain.

Not only is it a scary world out there (People and technology alike), but there also seems to be more judgement about how firm we are allowed to be with our Kids. Those statistics you hear about the recent rise of pediatric Anxiety and Depression are a trend I have already seen in my group practice and it doesn't appear to be slowing down anytime soon. And to boot, suicide is the second leading cause of death for People aged 10-24, second only to “accidents” (AKA teens acting impulsively).

When we see the danger out there as Parents, it scares the CRAP out of us (as it SHOULD) and when this happens, it is common for us to make the mistake of trading pacification of our Children for a facade of keeping them close.

That was A LOT there, so I will pull that reel back real fast. I regularly see in my practice that Children can be so focused on their phone or gaming, that Parents will hesitate to block access to these tools as a consequence for problematic behavior. As Parents, a part of us fears what might happen!

Is it OK to just take their phone like that? How else will they contact their friends? What if there is a last minute homework assignment? How will I contact THEM when they aren't at Home? What if they HATE ME and decide never to talk to me about anything important again, then go focus on their crazy friends more, then act out MORE, then IT WAS ALL MY FAULT???

See, I’ve spoken to a LOT of Parents about this over the years...

A Balanced Approach to Child Behavior Problems Takes More Involvement At the Beginning, But Is Far More Effective Than Some Parenting Tip/Trick in the Moment

What if I told you that if we do not utilize the leverage that is available to us as Parents and allow our Kids to maintain their access to privileges when they are not meeting behavioral expectations, then we are making their Lives and eventually our Lives as Parents, HARDER. We actually create behavioral problems for our Children by rescuing them (and honestly ourselves) too quickly from discomfort. In order to engage in the type of Balanced Parenting I’m suggesting here - the type that involves consistent and calm "follow through" no matter what - then this is also going to be more involved than just doling out punishments, at least at first. There is just no getting around it. It takes FAR less energy as a Parent to just “turn the other cheek” (we know we all do it at least sometimes), or not fight the battle, or even just give them a friggin tablet...

Either Punishment or Rescuing Can Actually Create Behavior Problems in The Long Run

While relying on acute punishment does settle things down in the moment and keep our Kids from becoming upset and exhibiting behavior problems in the short-term, what happens when it no longer works? What happens when the environment increases its demands on our Children until they are beyond what we get to control (which is inevitable) and our Kids still don’t have the internal tools and skill-sets to calm themselves down enough to course correct and get back on track? You guessed it...they can actually develop behavior problems here that would not have been exhibited, had the Child been able to be challenged adequately at their developmental level.

This approach to Parenting has frequently been called “Helicopter Parenting”, and I have recently seen it described as being a “Snowplow Parent” as well. Whatever you want to call it, these are both indicative of what Diana Baumrind called in her foundational 1970s research a permissive parenting style, whereby the Parent usually provides a VERY loving and nurturing environment, however there is a relatively limited attempt to provide rules or structure. This supports the Child in under-utilizing skills of self soothing, problem solving, frustration tolerance, and even empathy for other people’s emotional experiences. If you would like to read more about how this parenting style limits us from Balanced Parenting and limits the success of our Kids, you can read more about that here.

As you can see, the all too common choice by us Parents to “take it easy” on our Kids “because it’s a crazy world out there” might make some parts of Life easier and less scary on the front end, but it also creates a dangerous set-up on the back end. With this being said, it is also not a good idea to go being a jerk of a Parent just because you are the one that gets to make the Big Decisions. That will just be taken as a personal invitation for a power struggle, so get ready for those behavioral issues to arise.

There are right ways and there are wrong ways to go about implementing rules, structure, and behavioral expectations in the Home...that is if you want them to be Balanced and therefore sustainable...

How Do I Set My Kids Up to Avoid Behavior Problems?

Are the rules fair - in that do they meet the children at their own developmental levels? Keep in mind that the idea of “everything has to be equal” is actually an irrational myth. How do Parents follow through with the rules and what are the consequences for these rules? How much consistency can Parents muster, both over time and with each other, in order to provide a consistent enough message of what is expected? And are these rules doing what they intended? Do they teach our Children how to develop and maintain accountability over their own responsibilities strategically and fairly over time?

Raising little Humans is a big job and as Parents, that can ultimately fall with nobody else but us when it comes to our own Kids. The approach to Parenting utilized in the Balanced Man Plan is focused on avoiding behavioral issues in the long run by avoiding gimmicky parenting tips. Instead, years in practice as a Professional Therapist and Life Coach are utilized, experiences living In The Woods with at-risk Youth for several years in a Wilderness Therapy setting are tapped into, as well as direct experiences with Fatherhood. A Balanced approach to Parenting looks like using provided evidence-based techniques in order to reinforce desired behavioral expectations from Children, all the while maintaining a healthy and loving relationship with your child based on unconditional respect.

My name is Logan Cohen and I am a Professional Therapist & Life Coach with over 10 years in the field of Counseling Psychology. I am a Clinical Supervisor for the American Association of Marriage & Family Therapy, as well as the founder of New Leaf Counseling Group, LLC in Charlotte, NC. After spending tens of thousands of clinical hours with my own clients, starting a successful group practice, as well as a beautiful Family, I “picked my head up from the grindstone” to check in on childhood Friends & Loved Ones.

I painfully discovered that more than a few of my childhood Friends passed away at a young age from preventable health conditions and decided that as a Man, Husband, Father, and Friend, I could no longer stand by as People suffered in silence and self-destructed rather than ask for help. It doesn’t have to be like that and the holistic healing methods offered by the Balanced Man Plan is designed to help People “get unstuck” and break free from old patterns that are the barriers between Self & quality of Life.

The Balanced Man Plan is a therapeutic digital experience delivered through Self-Guided Coaching Plans created by a Male Therapist with the common barriers & strengths of Men in mind. The Balanced Man Plan has the goal of introducing a natural Balance back to Life so it is sustainable for the optimal Health & Well-Being of Self and Loved Ones - and ALL from the privacy and comfort of Home. If you have enjoyed what you see so far, check out our Self Guided Coaching Plans!

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