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"Problem Child"?

"If there is anything that we wish to change in the child, we should first examine it and see whether it is not something that could better be changed in ourselves." - C.G. Jung, Integration of the Personality

People talk about the "problem child," but I'm not really sure what a problem child is. According to the Encarta online dictionary, a problem child is "a child who requires a disproportionate amount of attention or correction." This definition leads me to ask several questions...

Disproportionate to what? Both of my children sometimes need more attention than other children, and the intensity of their need for attention varies from one moment to the next. And what is "correction"? Is it punishment, behavior management, or the use of rewards for acting "properly"? Correction implies that there is something wrong with children. Is there? Or is there something wrong with our view of children?

Happy, confident, caring children grow up in an atmosphere of flexibility and trust, supported by respectful, empathic, and realistic parents who do not see challenging behaviors as indications that there is a problem with their children.

Adults and children share many of the behaviors considered to be problems when exhibited by children. Why, then, is there a "problem child" but not a "problem parent"? Here is a light-hearted questionnaire designed to help readers decide whether or not they might want to consider a "problem parent" label for themselves.

The "Problem Parent" Self-Assessment Questionnaire

Do you ever... with your mouth full?
...skip the broccoli but eat the ice cream?
...forget to say "please" or "thank you"?
...stay up past your bedtime?
...prefer not to sleep alone?

...forget to brush your teeth?
...spill something?
...break a bowl or plate?
...cry when upset?
...fidget when bored or nervous?

...become irritable when tired or ill?
...decide not to share your things?
...get angry when others don't do what you want them to do?
...not come promptly when called?
...leave your clothes and things around?

...prefer playing or relaxing to doing chores?
...need repeated reminders?
...have trouble buying only essential items when shopping?
...speak too loudly?
...get distracted?

...feel annoyed at being told what to do?
...have trouble getting along with others?
...avoid eye contact during heated moments? others' undivided attention?

...become withdrawn when not getting the support you need?
...feel indignant when people don't take your feelings seriously?
...complain when you have to sit in the car for a long time?
...forget where you put something?
...forget to bring along your jacket?

...tell little lies to protect yourself from disapproval?
...need support when upset or scared?
...need approval?
...complain when the weather isn't cooperating with your plans?
...get frustrated when you can't figure out how to do something?

...become adamant about doing things in your own way, and in your own time?
...feel frustrated when you can't meet others' expectations?
...complain when frustrated or bored?
...become irritable for no apparent reason?
...reject cuddles and kisses?

...walk away when lectured to?
...have difficulty saying "I'm sorry"?
...feel uncomfortable when others talk about you in your presence, as if you weren't there?
...react negatively to threats, bribes, or other forms of manipulation?
...become overwhelmed by complex instructions or explanations?

...feel stressed when rushed?
...have trouble controlling your emotions?
...complain when you feel misunderstood?
...just want some time alone?
...need reassurance that you are loved and valued?

What do you think? Would you say you qualify as a problem parent? I must confess that many of the above behaviors are sometimes true for me. If I am going to use the problem child label for my children, then if I am honest with myself and fair to my children, I will also refer to myself as a problem parent.

Perhaps those self-acknowledged problem parents among us will be willing to share a label with all the "problem children" of the world? We can refer to ourselves, young and old, as "problem people." Anyone care to join me? Or, better yet, let's just agree to do away with the "problem" label.

The label is the problem, not the child. After all, children and adults are very similar in so many ways. Dr. Seuss put it best: "People are people no matter how small." True, parents are older and have accumulated learning and life experiences, while children are fresh to the world and have so much to learn. But for us parents, the learning hasn't stopped, and our children have much to offer us through their innocent and insightful perspective. Parents can be there alongside their children as learning partners.

People of any age can be labeled as problems, but only if we choose to perceive them that way. So, I wonder, why create problems for ourselves?

© Tamara Parnay. Reprinted with permission of the author. Tamara Parnay is the mother of two of our Earth family's children.