Agree to Disagree
● By Style
He Said: My wife wants to drag our 9-year-old son to a counselor and I think she’s overreacting.
There’s nothing wrong with our son, and the last thing he needs is to feel different from other kids. Now she’s started going online and taking questionnaires about his “symptoms.” And of course they have a label for everything these days. How do I get her to back off?
Dr. Deb Said: In my experience, moms are usually the parent who initiates seeking help for their children. Dads are often confident that if left alone, kids will figure out problems by themselves. And many times they do. The key question is, “Do you observe ongoing behaviors or emotions that interfere with your child’s happiness and success?” If you do, then your child deserves some assistance. It’s not about labeling anyone; it’s about developing a game plan to acquire tools and skills your child needs.
He Said: But even his pediatrician said he would, “grow out of it!”
Dr. Deb Said: Pediatricians don’t see your child on a daily basis. They only get a “snapshot” of your child (often on his best behavior) in their office. They’re used to kids “catching up” on physical development, and often naturally healing over time. Unfortunately, emotional and behavioral challenges often do the opposite – they become more ingrained and habitual over time.
She Said: Believe me, I’d rather our son not have these challenges either! But I see him constantly struggling. He gets so upset – and then feels lousy! He’s a good kid and it hurts to see him struggle. It’s not getting better, and as he’s getting older, the other kids are noticing more.
Dr. Deb Said: As kids get into the higher grades, they expect more mature behavior from their peers. The stakes get higher both academically and socially, and if your child doesn’t have age-appropriate skills, they fall further and further behind. Then their self-esteem starts to suffer.
She Said: I can see that already. He’s starting to put himself down. I’m afraid if we don’t address these issues now, his teenage years are going to be a nightmare.
Dr. Deb Said: It’s definitely easier to change patterns before they become part of a child’s identity. Unfortunately, kids will label themselves, often cruelly. Children know when they’re struggling, and start calling themselves “stupid, dumb, lazy, mean” and so on.
She Said: I wonder if part of the reason my husband is reluctant to seek help is that he identifies with our son? Learning to handle stress hasn’t always been easy for him. I just don’t want it to be so hard for our son.
Dr. Deb Said: That’s a possibility. The good news is that your son doesn’t have to go through it alone. You can both choose to help smooth his path. That’s a big part of parenting – figuring out how to use your own life lessons to make it easier for your children.
Dr. Deb’s closing thoughts: Deciding how to help our children can be challenging. Moms are often the “first spotters” of worrisome patterns because they know their kids so well. It’s very sad to see parents who’ve sensed their child is struggling, yet haven’t followed their instinct to get them help. By the time a crisis strikes, damage that might have been avoided has already occurred. It’s a parent’s role to help a child be their best self. And sometimes that entails knowing when to ask for help.
Debra Moore is a psychologist and Director of Fall Creek Counseling Associates. She can be reached at 916-344-0900 or sacramentopsychology.com.