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Guilty Until Proven Innocent!

by Diane MacKenzie

The parents of children with emotional and behavioral problems are often blamed for the behavior exhibited by the child. Mentally ill, emotionally disturbed, and even, hyperactive children are known to display behavior that is bewildering, bizarre and downright discombobulating. Well-intentioned family members, friends and other associates are quick to offer advice, without taking the feelings of the parent into consideration. False assumptions can rip gaping holes in parental confidence. After, sometimes years, of struggling to control a child that is out of their reach the parents have already begun to doubt their own judgment. They have developed serious concerns regarding their roles as parents and have begun to question whether or not they might actually be the problem.

After the trials of sticker charts, counting down, time-outs have all been exhausted. After all the child rearing books have been read and every theory has been put to the test, these parents are physically, emotionally and spiritually exhausted. For six months at a time, these children have remained confined to a chair, to their room, to their home. All the while under the watchful eye of the parent. Parents have confiscated toys, Playstations, Nintendo 64's and anything else that might encourage the child to exhibit more positive behavior. They have offered rewards and bribes. They have begged and pleaded and done every single thing they swore they would never do. Doctors, teachers and friends assume that the parent is not applying the proper disciplinary techniques. "If you didn't give in to him all the time, he wouldn't act that way. Don't go back on your word so much. No means no." The parent becomes a prisoner to his or her word. Voices echo through their minds, as they account for having followed each and every word to the letter. Seeing no change in the behavior of the child, the parent often begins to sink into clinical depression. As desperation sets in, the advice given frequently comes to include corporal punishment. "He just needs a good whipping. You just need to put him in his place. You need to show him who's boss." The last ditch effort is often to spank the child for every offense. For many parents, especially for those who did not even consider physical discipline an option, this can produce debilitating guilt and destroy what little confidence they have left. Suddenly the child, who desperately needs guidance and structure, becomes the ruler of the roost. The parent has been defeated and with every additional "word to the wise" they become more and more convinced of their own inadequacy in regard to raising their child.

Any social life the family may have entertained is non-existent. Holidays and family functions have become embarrassing events that leave the child, the parents and innocent bystanders visibly shaken. The unpredictable behavior of the child, combined with the constant and unyielding scrutiny of others, places the family under a sort of self-imposed quarantine. Leaving the home only when absolutely necessary becomes a way of life. At times, the family is perceived as aloof by neighbors, ungrateful by family, and evasive by teachers and other professionals. They avoid school functions due to seemingly countless and ineffective conferences. A phone call, in the middle of a school day, may set off a panic attack. The parents fears answering the phone and instantly wonders what offense their child has committed this time. The distance they have placed between themselves, and the world at large, is a defense mechanism. By avoiding the situations, that seem to exacerbate whatever problems the child may have, parents can protect themselves from any further shame and reproach. They can, most importantly, protect the child from the cold and unfeeling stares of people who do not, will not, or choose not to understand.

Clinical social workers, psychologists, school counselors instantly notice the unusual behavior of this child. It often seems that instead of doing an actual evaluation of the situation as a whole, they zero in on the mother and father as the catalyst for the behavior. Parents who become defensive are seen as guilty or too sensitive about the issue. They are often accused of abuse, even more so if the parent in question is single. A trip to the principal's office, for a parent-teacher conference, can begin to strike third-grade terror into the hearts of grown men and women. If they are involved in the child's education they are often treated as a nuisance. If they shrink away from the room-mother/PTO member/fund raising parent mold, they are seen as neglectful and uninvolved. Many of these parents develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder due to dealing with situations involving both the child and the child's clashes with the outside world. Neighbors calling at all hours of the day with complaints and threats. The Department of Human Services knocks on the door because a teacher reported bite marks on the child that were (unbeknownst to her, of course) self-inflicted. The teacher does not mean any harm and neither do the neighbors. The teacher is only doing her job and what she feels is morally right. The neighbors are understandably upset and expressing it to the parent in some hope that it can be rectified. After a number of years facing these kinds of crises on a daily basis, parents are often found to have agoraphobia, panic disorder, and clinical depression.

These parents need help, not advice. They need an occasional sympathetic soul to stop and say, "You look like you may need some help. Can I do anything?" They need someone to tell them that they are doing the best that they can and that we all have off-days. Growing up doesn't mean that you know everything. It means that you still have a lot more to learn. The children that they raise are often seen as outcasts, misfits, and troublemakers. When the child displays inappropriate behavior, it is unfairly viewed as a reflection on the parent. Think about it the next time that you are out at the local mall. Instead of being annoyed, put yourself in the parents shoes for just one second. Imagine what it would be like to have your child create a scene in public, in front of company, at home…….and imagine that nothing you did could stop it. How would you feel? What would you do? Now imagine that happening…..every day…..for the next ten years. Need I say more?

About Diane

I am a poet by nature and a writer at heart....29yo mother of three born in Memphis, TN on Halloween. I love to write...poetry, articles, fiction, the whole shebang. I write for myself and for anyone else who might be interested in my occasionally coherent babble. Enjoy.....

Diane is a talented a gifted writer and her works include many other venues besides Bipolar Children.  She writes for Themestream and her titles can be viewed (and rated!) at the following url...Diane's Articles

Please visit her there.

Diane can be reached by EMAIL



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