Disruptive little forces

Children are naughty, but when their naughtiness becomes disruptive, parents need to go beyond disciplining and find out the root cause of such behaviour

Akshat is an energetic and active five-year-old, or ‘overactive’ to be precise. He loves cars, and is constantly playing with one of his toy cars. When he is not doing that, he is running around his home, making driving sounds and bumping into people and things. Once, during a family party, Akshat got so excited wanting to show everyone his ‘driving’ skills that he ran around knocking over things and brought the party to a ‘crashing’ halt. His parents and grandparents could only watch exasperatedly as he refused to listen to their instructions.

We all love the sound of our children’s laughter and their squeals of excitement. Their giggles and chatter are like sweet music to our ears. But what happens when our little bundles of joy turn into little bundles of trouble. “If children won’t be naughty now, then when,” is what some well meaning people may say to you. But if your child’s mischief transgresses the line of innocence into annoyance, you have to step in and opt for some corrective measures. So how does one decide where to draw the line and how to address the issues that come up?

Simple mischief or unruly behaviour

A child can be said to be engaging in unruly behaviour if:

  • The intensity of his behaviours repeatedly disrupts the environment [be it home or outside]
  • He is unable to control his mischief even in situations where maintaining discipline is mandatory
  • Repeated bad consequences have no impact on his behaviour.

Why your child might be a menace

  • Personality: All of us are born with innate characteristics. Some of us are reserved, some of us more exuberant. This is part of our genetic makeup. Thus, while some children are inherently quieter, others are more energetic, some may be thoughtful, others impulsive. Needless to say, children who are impulsive, spontaneous and high on energy may tend to get into more scrapes and tussles compared to the quieter ones. As parents, we have to understand the personality of our child, and introduce disciplinary measures accordingly.
  • Parental approach to discipline: Just like children, parents have varying personalities as well. Some of us may be strict disciplinarians, others might be fairly lenient, and still others might be completely permissive. Sometimes a child may also express his or her rebelliousness or displeasure over something by being extremely mischievous and disobedient.
  • Health and nutrition: A healthy, well-fed, well-rested child is far less likely to engage in unruly behaviour compared to an ill-nourished child. The importance of ensuring that your child eats a healthy and nutritious diet, and gets his required amount of sleep cannot be undermined. Children often do not realise that they are hungry, sleepy, or tired and these conditions manifest in the form of disruptive or irritable behaviour.
  • Unhappy home atmosphere: If a child is growing up in a home that is rife with conflict or unhappiness of any kind, he is far more likely to be notorious. This is because children find it difficult to articulate their fears, anxieties and insecurities. The only way they know how to communicate is through behaviours that will ensure the attention of the adults around them.
  • Developmental disorders: At times children may display disruptive, destructive, or hyperactive behaviours because they may be suffering from a developmental or psychological condition. Autistic disorder, Asperger’s syndrome, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and conduct disorder are some childhood psychological conditions that may manifest in the form of defiant or disruptive behaviour. Childhood depression, which is far more common than it is believed to be, is also expressed by children through such behaviours, as is evident from the example that follows.
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A child growing up in an unhappy home is more likely to be disruptive

Six-year-old Dhriti was a happy child, who always got along well with her friends and did well in academics. When she started her third year in school, there was a marked change in her behaviour. At the slightest provocation she would hit other children in class, and when reprimanded by her teacher, would burst into a fit of tears. She no longer focussed on her studies and her grades began dropping. At home she had become very disobedient and untidy. On counselling her, it was discovered that her behaviour was triggered after the birth of her younger sister because all the attention was being showered on the newborn. Her parents had, unknowingly, not been giving her enough attention and hence she sought other ways to get them to look at her.

Dealing with disruptive kids

Unfortunately, there is no one formula that would fit all children and in different situations. We have to look at our child, his personality makeup, his specific triggers and issues, and figure out what works best for him. Here are some tips for you to begin with.

  • Make sure your child has a set daily routine. Ensure that the child wakes up at more or less the same time every day, eats, naps, studies, plays in a routine that is comfortable and familiar to her. As parents, you have to be flexible with the schedule, especially with younger and more spontaneous children. However, children need the security of a structured environment to help them make sense of the world around them.
  • Ensure proper rest and nutrition. Children will naturally gravitate towards junk food. Balance that with wholesome and healthy food as per your child’s preferences. Make sure your child gets enough sleep. Insist on a time by which your child has to be in bed daily; this is true for younger as well as older children!
  • Provide moderate but consistent discipline. One does not need to become a dictator to ensure compliance. At the same time, being completely permissive will not teach the child the necessity to control his desires and impulses. And remember, the earlier you teach your child these lessons, the better he will be able to internalise this.
  • Communicate. If your family is going through some crisis or trauma, please talk to your child about it. No matter what his age. We often make the mistake of shielding our child from reality. However, children are perceptive. They know when something is wrong. And when we don’t talk to them about it, they draw their own conclusions. So whatever it is that you as a family are going through—a divorce, an illness, a financial crisis, a house change—talk to your children about it. Share your feelings, and help them share theirs. This will enable them to express their worries through words rather than through inappropriate behaviours.
  • Accept your child’s personality and work around it. Don’t push a shy child to perform in front of an audience. Don’t ridicule an imaginative child for his daydreaming. An impulsive child will need to be given advance preparation for a social function, given repeated reminders on expected behaviours, and perhaps even given an opportunity to rehearse those behaviours. You might want to give the child some quiet time or engage him in a quiet activity before getting into a social situation where he is likely to misbehave.
  • When in doubt, evaluate: As parents, you will be the first one to sense if there is something wrong with the child. If you get the slightest doubt that your child’s misbehaviour is not due to any of the usual issues, and could be due to some underlying disturbance or disorder, do not hesitate to consult experts. You can talk to your school counsellor, a psychologist, a developmental paediatrician or a psychiatrist. Go for a complete psychological evaluation that will help pinpoint the exact profile of the child, so that corrective measures can be taken.

Lastly, keep perspective. It bears repeating that every child is his own little person, and his or her behaviour is an expression of a combination of things—the personality, the environment, people around them, challenges he or she faces. Our job as parents, at all times, is to ensure that we inculcate the right behavioural responses in the child, and when the child does not comply, rather than reacting, try to understand what are the triggers behind such behaviours and work towards alleviating those triggers.

This was first published in the February 2015 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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