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How To Handle Mental Illness With Your Child & In Your Family

How To Handle Mental Illness With Your Child & In Your FamilyI remember myself as a pretty normal child. I was always singing, dancing, cracking jokes for my classmates, forgetting stuff, trashing my room, losing my homework and getting into trouble.

I sucked at school — not because I wasn’t smart — but because I was forced to focus on boring stuff. And it didn’t help that I didn’t get graded on having a social life.

My parents were two very different people (which is why they divorced when I was 2). My dad was a passive, laid back, non-confrontational guy who believed in the silent treatment as a main form of discipline. My mom was a waitress, a yeller and a hard ass who believed any bad behavior could be smacked out of a child and that talking was a waste of time.

I grew up learning two completely different ways of discipline and because of that, I made the decision at a very young age that I would never, ever hit my own children.

Fast forward to my late 30s when I learned that I have ADD — as does my dad — which explained a lot for me. The disorganization, the random behavior, the dazing off and lack of focus, and more importantly, my dad’s understanding and patience with it all. It was beginning to make sense.

Around the same time as my diagnosis, we began to notice some really concerning issues with my youngest son Alex. He was destructive and demanding. He would run away from us whenever things got too loud or too chaotic. And he was socially backward in that he would say or do inappropriate, embarrassing things in public or at pre-school and he would talk back and throw tantrums over simple conflicts. We were beyond frustrated.

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In desperation, we took him to a psychologist where he was diagnosed with PDD NOS and later on with Asperger’s Syndrome, neither of which we understood. All we knew was that we had no control over or cure for it. The best we could provide was our understanding and acceptance and the overwhelming relief that we had made the decision so long ago to not use corporal punishment.

Once I began to advocate for my son and work more closely with these children, parents and specialists, I became really good at seeing the fine line between controllable and uncontrollable “naughtiness.” I also became sadder and sadder for those children whose parents were blinded by frustration and kept trying to discipline their disorders out of them. You see, kids with behavioral/psychological issues like ADD, ADHD, Autism, PDD and so on usually appear to be perfectly normal kids who are just really, really bad! Their symptoms are not visible to people who don’t know about or aren’t affected by the disorder or, who are quite honestly, in denial.

I have many friends and acquaintances that simply refuse to have their child evaluated. Some have even had recommendations from pediatricians and school counselors, yet they remain steadfast in their “Not my child!” stand and prefer to resort to all attempts at discipline (including spanking) to correct the behavior rather than even entertain the thought of their child’s behavior being beyond his or her control.

I liken it to punishing an Alzheimer’s patient for forgetting to take their meds, a starving man for raiding the refrigerator or an infant for not picking up their toys. If the behavior is based on an overwhelming need, a basic deficiency or a complete and total inability to comply, no amount of hitting or punishment will work.

Don’t misunderstand, I and many others have found very effective ways of working with and guiding our children to appropriate, desired behaviors. And I can assure you that you can see results. But first, we as parents & caregivers must be willing to accept these basic facts:

  • Not all naughty children are bad. Some are really confused, scared and hurting.
  • All children want to be accepted, loved and understood.
  • Children are not born vindictive, they do not set out to make us mad or break our rules. Sometimes we just have the wrong rules.
  • No one will “blame you” if your child has Autism, ADD, ADHD, PDD or anything like it. They will only blame you for ignoring it.
  • Regardless of what Mom and Dad and Grandma and Grandpa raised us to believe… you can not beat it out of them.

What it boils down to is this: Discipline is something we do for our children, not to them. If you truly love your child and are willing to try all levels of discipline to get the results you desire, then you should have no problem looking into alternatives that involve the title “special needs”. If on the other hand, you feel that all this “special needs” stuff is hogwash and the only thing that works is a good spanking, then quite honestly, the behavioral problem is with you, not your child.


This guest article from YourTango was written by Tara Kennedy-Kline and appeared as: How to Handle Mental Illness in Your Relationship and Family

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How To Handle Mental Illness With Your Child & In Your Family

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APA Reference
Experts, Y. (2018). How To Handle Mental Illness With Your Child & In Your Family. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 27, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 9 Nov 2013)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.