Sometimes it can be hard to know if your child’s exasperating behavior is within the normal range or something more, something where you might need professional help. If you are wondering this or just feeling more frustrated than you can handle, I would encourage you to take your child to see your pediatrician. You can talk about your worries at a well-child visit, but the doctor might not have adequate time to really explore the situation in that type of appointment. It might be better to make an appointment just for this dilemma (tell the scheduler, “I want to talk about his difficult behavior and how best to deal with it.”). Your pediatrician will go through your concerns and your family history and discuss some possible solutions.
In the post Practice Patience I referred to a time when I did this very thing. I had been consistently frustrated and overwhelmed with my 5-year-old daughter. I sincerely started to think there was either something wrong with her or something wrong with me! I was embarrassed and nervous to go in, but our doctor was patient and kind. He didn’t seem like this discussion was out of the ordinary at all. He sees all kinds of parents, and maybe he even thought it was a healthy problem-solving skill to have the courage to come talk to him. He went through an exhaustive list of different behaviors and troubles. By the end I was thankful for all the problems I could say “no, she doesn’t do that” to. It made me realize that I was possibly blowing some things out of proportion. But it was definitely worth it to go in and check it out. If there were something wrong (with either of us) where professional help would be needed, he could explain to me what it was, why we needed more help, and where to go to get that help.
But as it turned out, he was able to assure me that my daughter was within the “normal” limits, and we were going to be okay. He sympathized with me that parenthood can be very difficult and children are sometimes frustrating, and encouraged me to keep trying. It was both scary and consoling to be told: this is just how parenting is! But in subsequent frustrating moments I took great comfort in his reassurance and his words of support. I was certainly glad I went in and spoke with him. It was worth the potential embarrassment or fear to have a secure knowledge that we were on the right path, however trying that path might be!
If the problem were more severe and professional help was necessary (and it was not a medical problem), your doctor would most likely refer you to a counselor. The idea of getting counseling can be scary and intimidating to a lot of parents. After I received my Master’s in Social Work, I worked as a family counselor for a short time, and I became convinced of the many benefits counseling offers. If more parents sought counseling for their concerns there would be less of a stigma associated with getting help. Everyone needs a little help now and then. Different children need different parenting styles sometimes, but we as parents only know one style! A counselor can help you explore others, if she felt that was needed. A counselor can be your ally in your parenting struggles, offering new tools and strategies for dealing with problems; she can offer a nonjudgmental listening ear to talk with about your stress; and she can be a source of strength and support. Simply talking through your family dynamics, your failures and successes, and your communication styles can be very helpful. The counselor is an objective third party there to listen and help you find your own solutions.
Counseling has many options – you can just go by yourself to get some parenting help; you and your spouse can go together (this is especially helpful if there are marital concerns getting in the way of optimal parenting); or you can go together with your child. It doesn’t have to be a long, drawn-out process. Many counselors start out with ten sessions, and most problems can be resolved or greatly improved in that amount of time. There are parts of counseling that can be uncomfortable – the first session is probably the hardest. You might feel a sense of defeat and weakness admitting you have a problem greater than you can solve on your own. But try to view counseling as a resource available to you to improve your life and improve your functioning, much like taking your car to an auto mechanic or seeing a medical doctor when you are sick. Choose to see yourself as strong and courageous for taking this large step to make things better. There are other difficult parts as the counseling goes on, when you realize ways you’ve been wrong or things you need to change. But if the end result is better and more satisfying interactions with your children, the discomfort will be worth it.