Parents can be the source of odd behavior

  • By John Rosemond The Charlotte Observer
  • Sunday, December 1, 2013 9:15pm
  • Life

The mother of a 4-year-old boy shared an interesting story with me the other day. At age 2, her son began chewing meat to the point where it became liquid, but would not swallow.

The parents became worried and began attempting various means of persuading him to swallow. Nothing worked, which increased the parents’ anxiety and, likewise, the energy they put into the swallowing project.

Finally, the mother read a book of mine in which I describe a technique I developed called “The Doctor.” It’s actually a modification of an approach to children developed by Milton Ericson, an outlier psychiatrist whose offbeat, creative work has never been given its due in the mental health community.

Full disclosure: Whenever, in this column, I have written about this technique, mental health professionals have complained that it may well cause children to be anxious about real doctors.

To that, I can only say that over the perhaps 20 years that I’ve disseminated this recommendation concerning various problems involving young children, not one parent has ever reported that a child developed doctor anxiety.

Furthermore, the “cure” rate of childhood fears, anxieties, and even major behavior problems has been remarkable.

The method involves simply telling the child in question that The Doctor has said that the problem, whatever it is, is due to lack of sleep. Therefore, until the problem has completely disappeared for a certain period of time, or on any day that the problem occurs, the child must go to bed immediately after the evening meal.

Other privileges can also be made part of a package of consequences, but early bedtime usually does it.

Concerning the meat-chewing 4-year-old, the parents told him, “We visited with a doctor today and told him that you chew meat and won’t swallow it.

“He told us that this happens when a child isn’t getting enough sleep. He told us that when you chew meat and won’t swallow it, that you have to go to bed right after supper.”

That evening, the child had to go to bed right after supper. From that point on, he has chewed and swallowed, chewed and swallowed, chewed and swallowed. No problem since.

There are four points to the story, the first of which is that if the parents’ had consulted a mental health professional, there is some likelihood the child would have become afflicted with a disorder of some sort — sensory integration disorder, perhaps.

When a problem becomes a disorder, it is rarely, if ever, cured in a day.

The second point is that the mother now realizes her anxiety was one reason — perhaps the reason — why the problem worsened over a two-year period. When children develop problems, they need parents who are authoritative, not anxious. Anxiety and authority are incompatible. The former cancels the latter.

The third point is that the mother’s anxiety reflected the now-ubiquitous tendency of parents to “think psychologically” about problems that arise in or with their kids. This sort of thinking prevents problem-solving — not sometimes, but always — because the question “Why is this happening?” prevents a parent from focusing on what to do about it.

The “Why?” question induces what I call “disciplinary paralysis.”

The fourth point is that we seem to have forgotten that children do odd things sometimes. These odd things do not necessarily indicate a problem. Sometimes, odd is nothing more than odd.

Family psychologist John Rosemond: www.rosemond.com.

More in Life

Using a rod to assist in running wiring through an attic space, Don Thomas, of R&D Handyman Service, works on installing a ceiling fan at a home in SE Everett on Monday, July 24, 2017 in Everett, Wa. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
                                Don Thomas of R&D Handyman Service installs a ceiling fan at a home in southeast Everett. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
When fall chores loom, just hand them to the handyman

Here are three local businesses that can help you prepare your home for the rainy season.

And this year’s winners of Everett’s Monte Cristo Awards are…

The awards recognize local homeowners and businesses that take special care of their properties.

‘Happy Death Day’ applies ‘Groundhog Day’ premise on horror genre

Smart writing and Jessica Rothe’s performance make this worth seeing.

Adventurer 1st to finish Race to Alaska on stand-up paddleboard

Karl Kruger will speak about his trip at the Everett Mountaineers Banquet on Nov. 4 in Lynnwood.

Therapy helped ease debilitating pain after injury

Columnist Jennifer Bardsley shares her experiences with complex regional pain syndrome.

How to prune a hydrangea: An exception to the pruning rule

It helps to think of a growing blackberry vine when you’re about to cut back this blooming shrub.

Visiting Germany’s Lutherland, birthplace of Reformation

The sights include the church where the first Protestant service took place in 1521.

Can you top ‘Hamilton’? Author Ron Chernow is about to find out

The notable writer’s latest book, published Oct. 10, is a lengthy biography on Ulysses S. Grant.

Most Read