Episode 43: Empowering Parents of Children Living with Severe Emotional Disturbance

In this episode of The Family Couch, we talk with Dr. Stacy Haynes about how to help parents feel empowered when they are raising children who have mental and emotional disorders and have been labeled as defiant or disrespectful.  Haynes is a counseling psychologist who has been in the profession for about 20 years.  Her focus is on children and parents.  She works with schools, guidance counselors and social workers on a regular basis.  

We dive right in and discuss what mental and emotional barriers kids might have that would look like defiance or disrespect.  Haynes first discusses temper tantrums.  She provides that the American Medical Association says that temper tantrums are actually part of regular development for children.  Haynes talks about how an older child who we expect not to act out this way may do so because he does not have the tools to communicate how he is feeling.  We have to ask if our children have the skills to be successful, whether it is communication skills or managing emotions.  It is easier to flip the desk over in school due to frustration than to tell the teacher he is having a hard time with his assignment.  Haynes suggests that it is better to start working with a defiant child at a younger age, around 6 or 7, as this behavior is often just related to difficulties that have not been addressed.  

We discuss what Haynes would say to a client whose 10-year old has a breakdown over doing something simple like dishes.  Haynes says she will often ask the parent what the child was doing before the request.  Often when a child has difficulty transitioning to the next thing, it’s because the thing they were doing beforehand was just more fun.  Haynes suggests to parents that you may have to change the plan–as an example, do the dishes before the video game.  Compliance is huge.  To increase compliance we have to look at a few things like the timing of the direction and if the direction was clear.  Behaviors that we view as defiant are sometimes not defiant but  just timing-related.  As parents, we often think our children should do something because we told them to but this is not the case.  

We change gears and discuss how to handle a child’s behavior outside of the home setting, like at school or extracurricular activities.  Haynes is a big fan of problem-solving with this type of issue.  She suggests simply discussing alternative behaviors with the child.  As an example, if he is in trouble for pushing someone in line after being pushed first, you can ask what he could have done instead.  You cannot always change the coach or teacher, but you can help you children build the skills they’ll need in that moment.  

We discuss advice Haynes would give to parents who are frustrated when their children get a note home from school regarding their behavior.  Haynes feels that notes are simply information that shares that your child is having difficulty in school–this does not mean that you have to get frustrated with your child for the behavior or the teacher for their tone.  Haynes says that parents just need to recognize what the behavior is communicating in terms of what difficulty their child may be having meeting expectations in school.  If we go into lecture mode, the conversation often does not go well.  Haynes suggest being more of a detective to find the solution to the issue.  

If a parent is receiving notes over and over again for the same type of issues, it can be frustrating.  Haynes provides that often we equate this notes with our level of parenting.  This is not true.  If you ask what is making a certain situation so difficult, you come up with solutions together to keep it from happening again.  She advises telling your child how you feel when you get the notes from school but not turning the notes into a negative, lecturing situation with your child.  

We change gears to discuss what to do if you have an older child around high school age that has not had counseling or guidance regarding these behaviors in the past.  If you are trying to get information from the child regarding an issue at school and all they say is, “I don’t know,” Haynes feels that that the conversation was not entered well.  Kids shut down when they feel a lecture is coming.  She suggests starting off by discussing something else and then switch gears to discuss the issue at hand, perhaps making it a coffee date.  You can ask them if they need help with anything at school to make things better.  You may find out that there is a problem with a particular student in the class the notes are sent home from by asking this way.  Haynes also suggests getting a family member involved if you as the parent cannot get information from your child.  

We finally discuss what Haynes would suggest to a parent who is working through this currently that wants to see past their child’s diagnosis or condition, using Oppositional Defiance Disorder as an example.  Haynes provides that for the last 30 years, the number one treatment for ODD kids has been parent management training.  Underlying the treatment, though, is relationships.  She says not to go back into history but to start fresh to help your child.  You have to be able to forgive and know that when you look back on your child’s childhood you can say, “Yes, there was a rough patch, but we got through it.”  She also advises that you have to model what you want.  If you do not want explosive anger in your home, you cannot model that behavior.  



Dr. Stacy Haynes, Ed.D LPC, ACS specializes in the needs of children, families and parenting concerns. Dr. Haynes has over 15 years experience in the treatment of every day challenging family concerns. She believes in making a difference one person at a time. Little Hands Family Services, LLC was founded by Dr. Haynes in 2008, as an agency, provides quality evidence based treatment to help families heal and to solve the challenges of life.



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