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Challenging Children: Getting Professional Help

Learn when and how to seek professional help with dealing with your child's behavior problems.

Know when you need help

Challenging Children: Getting Professional Help

Keep a Written Log of Your Child's Problem Behaviors
If you are uncertain about whether to seek professional help, keep a log of situations or behaviors you find challenging. Yes, it's time-consuming and hard to remember to do, but written records like these--and any notes you make during teacher conferences or other notes you receive from school--are useful when you begin the process of getting help.

If one parent thinks the other is overreacting, a notebook may help the couple decide whether the problems are isolated events or a trend. Moreover, if you do end up seeking help, professionals will find this information useful. If nothing else, it's a great history of your child.

Quick Tip
Keep a record of comments or situations that indicate difficulty. Include date, comment made, by whom, and situational details.

Obstacles to Getting Professional Help
If a parent is not ready to seek help, he or she will often rationalize or ignore comments and recommendations.

Guilt can be a major deterrent to seeking help. Some parents are hobbled by simply having waited so long. Fearing that they overlooked obvious signs and ignored others' warnings, they agonize over having used potentially damaging parenting techniques, worried that it is not too late. "If only we had responded sooner." Or "If only I had insisted when my spouse was reluctant to get outside help." Listen to your gut instinct. If you think the situation needs professional help, it probably does. At the very least, a professional perspective can provide direction. Don't let fear or guilt override your good judgment.

Some parents are so concerned that someone will blame them that they refuse to seek professional guidance. Instead, if they do anything at all, they read book after book on parenting difficult children, rather than combining this information with a professional's insights. Books can provide insight and information. A knowledgeable professional can guide you in using this information to help your child and family.

Some families get mired in the question of "how he got this way." "What did I (or my spouse) do to cause this?" is often the unspoken concern. It's as if, until they know for sure, one way or the other, they're stuck. Similarly, the fear that help will lead to the stigma of a label deters many families from turning to professionals. When the question of "why" sidetracks them or the issue of guilt or fault gets so big that a family can't get past it, individual or couples' counseling must be considered an essential part of the treatment package. You can't help your child until you help yourself.

"Diagnosis and Labels"
You may be leery of seeing a professional to "diagnose" your child. But don't kid yourself-everyone is diagnosing your child. You are, your mother-in-law is, and so is your child's teacher. Everyone's trying to figure out what is "wrong" with your challenging child. (Or what's wrong with you.) A diagnosis is a label, and a label can be a very scary thing. But whether a label gets attached to your child is not really the issue. It doesn't change the difficulty your child is having just getting through his daily life. If much of life is a struggle for you or for him, advice from a professional with relevant education and experience may be just what you need.

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