Kevin Kennedy, Ph.D.  

Specialties: Child and Adolescent Psychotherapy

Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates
Braintree, MA
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Managing Childhood Behavioral Problems

Jun 17, 2008 - 38 comments

behavioral problems





Over the years during which I have contributed to the “Ask a Doctor” Child Behavior Forum for MedHelp, one topic has dominated the questions posed by the Forum’s readers:  how to manage childhood behavior problems.  Indeed, in our outpatient practice at Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates in the metropolitan Boston area,  the largest number of pediatric patients are referred for evaluation and treatment of behavioral difficulties.

Some of the time, pediatric behavior problems are symptomatic of emotional disorders, such as Major Depression, Bipolar Disorder, Disruptive Behavior Disorder or a condition along the Pervasive Developmental Disorder spectrum.  However, in the majority of instances, childhood behavior problems occur on the normal spectrum and are not indicative of serious mental or emotional problems.  

Now, does the fact that many behavior problems are considered normal indicate that they should be ignored, that parents should do nothing to address them?  By no means.  It is important to manage childhood behavioral problems in a systematic manner.  What is meant by ‘systematic’?  It means that a structured  approach should be employed, an approach that is concrete, specific and consistent.  The approach should be employed almost every time the child displays the problematic behavior, and the approach should be adopted by any adult who regularly cares for the child.  The child should know precisely what will occur in response to the problematic behavior.

When systematic behavior management plans are implemented, parents can respond to their children’s behavior in a calm and rational manner.  They don’t tend to respond in highly emotional, often angry ways.  It is crucial in managing childhood behavior problems that adults maintain their equanimity, and systematic plans permit this because parents are secure in their knowledge of how to react to a situation. Consequently, they are not trying to ad lib, are not reinventing the wheel and are not acting impulsively on the spur of the moment.

There are two approaches to systematic behavior management that I often recommend to readers of the Child Behavior Forum.  SOS Help for Parents (written by Lynn Clark) and 1-2-3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2-12 (written by Thomas Phelan) are two practical, useful and effective approaches to the systematic management of childhood behavior.  These approaches have withstood the test of time and have been of benefit to tens of thousands of parents. If you are struggling with questions about how to manage your children’s behavior, look at these guides for straightforward, common-sense guidance.  By managing behavior problems in a competent way, you will enjoy your children more and contribute to their success.