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Mark Hutten, M.A.
Re: Myth of the "Bad Parent" -- Myth of the "Bad Child"

Are there some children -- or parents for that matter -- that are just plain "bad"?

Parent— We’ve all seen it – a little girl throwing a fit in the bread aisle or a little boy kicking and screaming in front of
the fragrance counter. Most moms and dads have seen their own youngster behave the same way from time to time.
Yet, it’s common for people to react to this kind of behavior by blaming the mother/father.
Being a mother/father isn’t easy, and all moms and dads
are bound to make some mistakes. Different parents
use different parenting techniques. Some moms and
dads try to negotiate. Others use "time-out." Sadly,
some parents become so frustrated and embarrassed
by their youngster’s behavior that they do resort to
slapping, shaking or yelling at the youngster. Some
seem to do nothing.

However, believing that a youngster’s behavior problem
is always the result of bad parenting is like believing
poor grades are always the result of an ineffective
teacher. Even the best teachers have students who get
poor grades, and even the best moms and dads can
have a youngster with a behavior problem. The fact is
that behavior problems can be a sign of mental and
emotional problems.
Some moms and dads simply do not have the knowledge, skills or support they need to help them manage a youngster’
s behavior problem. Parents often are dealing with their own issues, such as unemployment, poverty or illness.

In spite of these challenges, all moms and dads have strengths. Most parents know from experience what a youngster
needs most. Parents are committed to both their youngster and their community. Parents are dedicated to helping kids
grow healthy and strong. Most of all, parents have a "built-in" motivation to do what’s best for their youngster.

By building on these kinds of strengths, moms and dads can develop better ways to take charge of their lives and to
succeed. The key, however, is to find out what those strengths are.

I don’t see dysfunctional families. I see families that are over-stressed and under-supported.
Child— Seven-year-old Jeremy is having trouble in
school. As a second grader, he already has a reputation
among the teachers as a "bad child." He spends most of
his school day sitting in the corner or the principal's
office. With 30 other kids in his class, the teacher has
little time for Jeremy. He isn't learning anything in the
classroom, and he has trouble making friends.

We all have memories of the "bad child" in our class -
the youngster who was always in trouble and often
alone. We tend to blame this kind of behavior on a lack
of discipline or a bad home. We say the youngster was
spoiled, abused, or "just trying to get attention." But
these labels are often misguided. Many of these kids
suffer from serious emotional problems that are not the
fault of their caregivers or themselves.
Myths about kid's behavior make it easy to play the "blame game" instead of trying to help kids like Jeremy. Often, in
making assumptions, we "write off" some kids. However, with understanding, attention and appropriate mental health
services, many kids can succeed - they can have friends, join in activities and grow up to lead productive lives. To help
kids with emotional problems realize their potential, we must first learn the facts about the "bad child."

Behavioral problems in kids can be due to a combination of factors. Research shows that many factors
contribute to kid's emotional problems including genetics, trauma and stress. While these problems are sometimes due
to poor parenting or abuse, parents and family are more often a youngster's greatest source of emotional support.

Kids do not misbehave or fail in school just to get attention. Behavior problems can be symptoms of
emotional, behavioral or mental disorders, rather than merely attention-seeking devices. These kids can succeed in
school with understanding, attention and appropriate mental health services.

Kid's emotional, behavioral and mental disorders affect millions of American families. An estimated 14-20
percent of all kids have some type of mental health problem. Jeremy and the many others mislabeled as "bad children"
can use the support of their communities.