One of the biggest challenges in this business of struggling children is deciding what’s the ratio between a legitimate disorder of some kind or another and a child’s choice.
For example, homework or chore avoidance is frequently explained due to a disorder not allowing the child to complete the task.
Parents reveal the ratio as they say things like, “Well, he couldn’t help clean up his room last night because of his ADHD.”
While I am not denying the existence of disorders, I would encourage parents to question their ratios.
Recently, I had a talk with a dad, Gerald, about his 8 year old daughter, Abbey, a third grader who has becoming increasingly challenging to manage.
As Gerald informed me, Abbey has been very “anxious” to the point where she can’t do things asked of her and that she might need medication.
“How do you know she’s anxious,” I ask him.
“Well, every time we start to do homework she starts crying and having a fit. We try to find out what’s wrong, but she will only say things like, ‘I’m scared.’ It’s the same when we want to put her to bed – she starts crying and having a fit. Even when we ask her to put her clothes away, she starts whimpering on the floor, saying things like ‘I can’t do it. I’m too scared.”
(At this point in the conversation, if I had a beard, I envision that I’d be stroking it trying to look as thoughtful as possible, as I’d be nodding and saying something like, “Hmmm…hmmm…” in curious and seemingly wise tones.)
I ask, “What do you do when all of this is going on?”
“Well, we comfort her, of course, and we tell her that everything’s going to be all right. We do what we can to soother her.”
(I do my best not to roll my eyes.)
“Does she show this “anxiety” when she’s in school?”
The dad explains that pre-COVID and even with partial school attendance under the current conditions that Abbey has never shown any of her anxiety in school or in social situations. It’s only at home.
Not being able to hold back further, I dive in.
“Look, Gerald. What is the one thing that kids are driven by? What is it that they want above all else?”
Gerald looks at me like I am a bit off center and he’s not really sure how to respond. He says, “Well, they want to be loved, of course.”
In somewhat teasing tones, I respond, “Gerald…Gerald… I know they want to be loved. But, beyond being loved, what drives them?”
Gerald doesn’t know.
I say, “OK. I will tell you. It’s simple. It’s one word… Pleasure!!!! They want to have pleasure. That’s it. Putting your clothes away and doing homework does not give pleasure.”
When asked what about his ratio of Abbey’s anxiety to avoidance, Gerald admitted that he saw it as about 80% due to anxiety vs. avoidance.
If Abbey showed even a hint of anxiety in school, I might agree with him, but since she showed no anxiety anywhere else other than at home, I had a different ratio.
Looking at Gerald squarely, I offered a different perspective.
“Gerald, my ratio is pretty lopsided too….except mine is going 90/10. That is 90% of the behavior you are seeing is Abbey’s attempt to avoid momentary pain (i.e., homework, putting clothes away) for pleasure.”
Gerald has been an all too willing fish, biting the bait whenever Abbey puts it on the hook.
Check out your ratios.
Maybe they are not what you think.
Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving.
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