Question: I feel as if I'm in a state of constant conflict with my school age child. At home I spend most of my time simply trying to maintain some semblance of order, and my requests and directives are routinely met with either passive indifference or outright rebellion. It's a relief when I can just get away for a while. Is there a way to break this negative pattern?


There may be a number of hidden issues underlying the surface turbulence you’re experiencing in your home. In the first place, your child may be dealing with a medical problem. Many chronic conditions (for example, allergies, recurrent headaches, sinusitis or anemia) can cause a child to feel poorly enough to provoke ongoing irritability. Acute illnesses (such as the flu) or injuries can do the same. In either case, the negative behaviour you're experiencing would be accompanied by more specific symptoms. A consultation with your child’s doctor can help determine whether your child’s mental and emotional attitude has a physical cause.

Medications and drugs – for instance, antihistamines or decongestant-antihistamine combinations – can also have mood-altering effects. Drugs which are themselves intended to change behaviour (such as Ritalin or Dexedrine) may sometimes backfire and worsen negative behaviour. Illicit drugs can also have a dramatic impact on a child’s attitude. Finally, a neuro-chemical disturbance, such as ADHD, or a significant emotional disturbance, such as clinical depression, may also trigger a situation like the one you’ve described. If you’re concerned about any of these possibilities, a physician’s evaluation is essential.

Your child may also be undergoing serious emotional stress. Various kinds of abuse (verbal, physical or sexual), whether at the hands of an adult or other children, can precipitate drastic changes in behaviour. Withdrawal and ongoing hostility could be signs of a problem in this area.

Setting an example for behaviour

If you’ve ruled out medical and psychological causes, it’s likely that you’ve simply got an innately strong-willed child on your hands – a child who is going to challenge your leadership until the day he sets out on his own as a young adult. Other possible problems might include your own behaviour as a parent (are you modelling negative or combative behaviour?) or a failure to set consistent limits during the first few years of your child’s life (perhaps brought on by parental turmoil, burnout, illness or divorce).

Your problem-solving approach will depend on the underlying issues, your child’s temperament and the resources available to you. A meeting with a pastor or family counsellor – someone who shares your values and beliefs – might be a good place to begin. You may also find it helpful to join a support group of parents with children of similar ages. Repair work in relationships takes time, and you can expect this project to continue for a number of months.

Excerpted from The Complete Book of Baby and Child Care published by Tyndale House Publishers. © 1997, 2007, Focus on the Family.* All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used by permission. *U.S.

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