May is chock-full of events and things to celebrate but is also Mental Health Awareness Month. Mental Health Awareness Month was established in 1949 to increase awareness of the importance of mental health and wellness in Americans’ lives and to celebrate recovery from mental illness. For the past 20 years, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has recognized Mental Health Awareness Month (MHAM) every May to increase awareness about the vital role mental health plays in our overall health and well-being.
To help raise awareness this year, Ritchie Regional Health Center asked our behavioral health providers to write articles on the subject. Given that today kicks off Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week, we’d like to share the editorial of our Behavioral Health Director, Jasen R. Nichols.
Why Does My Child Act This Way?
By: Jasen R. Nichols, Licensed Psychologist
It’s an age-old question that parents of even the most well-behaved children have asked themselves. Samantha is told by her mother to clean up her snack cake wrappers that are lying on her bedroom floor attracting ants and immediately begins to argue in protest. Darrin won’t stop making that annoying sound that resembles a car alarm no matter how many times his father angrily tells him to stop. Tommy keeps nagging his mother to let him jump out of a 15 ft tree with a trash bag because he is sure it will be an effective parachute. But why? Why do they do these things?
As a parent or guardian, do you ever feel lost or doubt your ability to manage your child? Of course you do. If you answered ‘no’ to that question, I’m sorry, I don’t believe you. If you were brave enough to answer ‘yes’, however, do you know what that makes you? A parent. A normal human being who is trying their best to figure out something that sometimes seems impossible to figure out. At times, to the outside observer, it might even look like a chimpanzee trying to solve an algebra problem. Attempting to understand your child’s behavior and then responding in a helpful way can be tiring, confusing, frustrating, irritating, and any other word you care to add to that list that describes that pit of despair that you sometimes feel when you are overwhelmed with their misbehavior. We love these little people and just want what’s best for them. In addition to simply loving them, it’s our responsibility to teach and guide them to adulthood so that they can be independent, functioning members of society who can effectively interact with other people, get their own needs met, and help those around them. So why do they keep misbehaving? What are they trying to accomplish? What are you supposed to do?
As a side note, let me say that having a child who misbehaves at times does not necessarily mean that they have some sort of psychiatric illness and need to talk to a therapist. Behaviors that parents struggle to manage are to be expected. Kids are trying to figure it all out just like we adults are and, like some adults, don’t always understand why they display some of the behaviors that they do or even why they feel the way that they do. Moreover, trying to express what they don’t understand within them can be even more challenging. How many times have you asked your child “Why did you…” only to be met with those three words that sound like fingernails across a chalkboard? The infamous “I don’t know” response. For those parents who are younger and don’t know what a chalkboard is, trust me, the sound can be horrendous. It’s like Mike Starr’s character, ‘Joe’, in the movie ‘Dumb and Dumber’ who had the privilege of hearing Jim Carrey’s character, ‘Lloyd’, demonstrate “the most annoying sound in the world” directly to his face while sitting next to him in the ‘Mutt Cutts’ van. I invite you to stop reading and take a couple minutes to watch it on YouTube just to refresh your memory and maybe even get a much-needed laugh. At the same time, there are those kids who loosely understand the goal of their behavior and are simply going about trying to get particular needs met in a self-defeating way that ends up getting them in trouble. However, if believe that your child is struggling with a psychiatric concern that may be contributing to their misbehavior, trust your gut and talk to a medical or behavioral health professional right away. After all, you are their parent or guardian and know them better than anyone.
With that being said, I was asked a few weeks ago to write a post of my choosing for Mental Health Awareness Month, which occurs on a yearly basis during the month of May. I like things to be clear, understandable, and relatable. Making things too complicated only makes me sound foolish and leaves you feeling frustrated. At the same time, I recognize that answering the question ‘Why does my child act this way?’ is a very complicated question with so many different answers that it would be impossible to answer the question in one short post. So, after thinking about it for awhile, I had the idea that this could be a relatively short mini-series, of sorts, that provides general thoughts and opinions about child misbehavior and what we as parents (yes, I’m a parent, too) can do to better understand and respond to what our kids are trying to tell us through their behavior. Honestly, I’m not sure where this will go or even if it will be well received. But, that’s okay. It’s a journey, really, just like parenting, and there will be something for me to learn from it. Maybe it will even give us the opportunity to learn from each other. My ultimate goals are to help you better understand the drama while also helping you think about different ways to strengthen the relationship with your child. At the same time, this is not meant to replace or be a substitute for professional psychotherapy services. Lastly, you are certainly free to agree or disagree with what I have to say. If you feel compelled to comment, however, all that I ask is that you make it constructive.
So, now that I’ve shared my purpose, I leave you with a thought. The next time your child misbehaves, ask yourself these two questions: 1) “Why did they act this way?” and 2) “What need(s) are they really trying to get met?” If you can’t answer those questions, that’s okay. Join the club. Just try your best. I’m simply asking you to start looking at the behavior from a different angle for now. Until next time, happy parenting!
Did you enjoy the article? We know we did! If you’d like to make an appointment with Jasen, call 304-869-3650. He serves clients ages 7 and above at Ritchie Regional’s School-Based Health Center at Ritchie County Middle/High School, where he offers individual and family therapy services.
And don’t forget, we have other providers on our behavioral health team: Ashley Stevens, MA, LPC, and Chandra Diebold, PMHNP.
Need Help Now?
- If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is available. Call or text 988 or chat 988lifeline.org.
- To learn how to get support for mental health, drug, and alcohol issues, visit FindSupport.gov.
#mentalhealthawarenessmonth #mentalhealthmatters #mentalhealthawareness