(updated June 21st, 2011)
This child is just about two months old. It is a good-hearted, good-spirited creation, ready to meet the world in a positive way. The idea that children are born evil and need to be guided to become good is wrong.
A child turns mischievous or naughty in two ways. One way is that needs of the child are not understood and are not met properly to a sufficient degree. The other way is that the child is being regarded as mischievous or naughty, whereby that idea is reinforced and the child itself adopts that picture of itself given to it by grownups.
Violence against children at home
A law prohibiting parents to beat their children was adopted the first time in Sweden in 1979. This law was at that time even in Sweden considered extreme and odd. It took four years for the next country to to the same, Finland in 1983. Then this law has been adopted in Norway, Austria, Cyprus, Denmark, Latvia, Croatia, Bulgaria, Israel, Germany, Iceland, Romania, Ukraine, Hungary, Greece, Holland, New Zeeland, Portugal, Spain, Venezuela, Uruguay, Luxembourg, Costa Rica and Moldavia.
It is of course sad that countries like the United States and Britain still allow grown-ups to hit small children, and extremely odd that the learning by modelling has not been understood in this context. Violent youngsters are created by violent grownups.
Many of the countries that have adopted laws against beating children, have done so, after a long experience of children getting all kinds of brain damage with life-long neurologic impairments as a consequence after having been beaten or shaken by their parents, consequences being loss of intelligence, loss of hearing, blindness, epilepsy and even death, as for infants - the Shaken Baby Syndrome, which is the most serious form of physical child abuse, often even not understood by the perpetrating parent.
The Shaken Baby Syndrome is now widely known and recognized, as knowledge is being spread about it at maternal care centers in many countries.
Children with psychiatric disorders often have lots of experience of irritated and aggressive grownups
It is very frustrating for parents who have a child with psychiatric function impairments like ADHD or austistic disorders which not yet have been diagnosed properly or understood by the parents.
In counseling and assessing these children and teenagers, especially if they have concomittant symptoms of depression it is important to ask parents about their reactions when they get maximally frustrated, if they lose their temper, if they act in a way that they regret afterwards, and if so, how often it happens. The questions should be put in a matter-of-fact supportive way, as if they want to do the best for their child, which by the way, all parents want, with very few exceptions.
The exact answers to the questions above are not the important thing, but together with the parents focuse on this issue and to get an idea of parental ability to handle their own frustrations. Remember that 'often' and 'seldom' can mean once every second month or several times a day different for different parents. It is important to get a reasonable estimate, and even more important to get the chance to explain that hostile outbursts by parents create depression in children. Science has proved this. I often make the comparison with a situation where the boss of the parent would have a similar reaction directed towards him or her and the feelings that would create. I also explain, that even small changes in parental behaviour has great positive impact on child functioning and diminishing sympotms of depression, often very fast in my experience. After such a conversation motivation for change usually is very high.
If the child or teenager is aggressive it is important to assess weather aggressive behaviour is being boosted by parental behaviour by the means of modelling.
Lots of parents have great help from participating in parental education, which is the 'drug of choice' number one in many psychiatric disorders in children and teens. In my experience almost all parents having participated in such educations (PMT, COPE) report great benefit and satisfaction from participation and learning.
Children and teenagers with mental impairment or autism are often bored
Children with mental impairment or autism very often have a life that is boring, at least in periods or parts of their days. Whenever such a child gets more aggressive, you should of course look into how it is being met by the grownups and peers in its surroundings, but you should also make a careful analysis of that child's whole day from the time it wakes up until it falls asleep in the evening, and assess wether the child's or teenager's activities are appropriate and well balanced as to variation and to the level of the child's abilities intellectually and physically and as to the child's or teenager's interests. If the day schedule is vague or described without much detail, the everyday day-schedule should be carefully revised. A carefully planned week-schedule or day-schedules that also are transformed into lasting everyday practice, oftens proves to be very rewarding as to the child's psychic well-being as well as to its behaviour.
During my education as a medical student, I had the opportunity to listen to a man from Texas who lectured about an institution for young people with quadriplegia (paretic from the neck). The institution was a college, they had a good life. At that time I had just visited a few patients around 25 years of age in a long-care hosptial in Sweden who spent their life in a bed in one room side by side by senile people. Their situation was miserable of course.
Creating everyday life which is interesting and developing all hours of the day, taking into consideration the interests and abilities of the individual child or teenager no matter what intellectual level or psychic function impairment the child or teenager has is a challenge at times. It all boils down to our imagination, energy and to some extent to economic resources.