A recent documentary from the UK tells the disturbing story of Fred and Diane, parents of seven year old Georgina who want her taken into full time care due to years of frustrating behavioural issues. Young Georgina has been removed from at least six child care facilities in her young life and her parents are unable to control her significant abusive and disturbing behaviour. Perhaps the most shocking and confronting point in the documentary was when the mother referred to her daughter as ‘it’ and discussed how she had the opportunity to ‘get rid of it when it was just a foetus’ and how she regrets the decision every day. How gut wretchingly sad, to get to this point in a family where a child’s negative behaviour causes a family to implode!
I discussed this documentary and the issue of behavioural issues with Sophie Falkiner on the Kerri-Anne show this morning. The question was put to me with regards to violent and abusive behaving in children, “is in nature or nurture?” In other words, is it the parent’s fault if their child is abusive and displays out of control behaviour, or is it a biological part of their nature? In many cases, this is difficult to ascertain. Certainly in the case of Fred and Diane’s daughter, she had been subjected to numerous medical investigations, including blood tests, brain scans and psychological evaluations with no diagnosis apparent. Later in the documentary, a counsellor comes into their home and explains to the couple that their own behaviour, lack of boundaries and disengagement with their child is causing the issues.
Certainly we cannot point the blame soley on parents when children exhibit aggressing and disturbing behaviour. However it is not always the child’s fault either. It comes down to looking at individual cases. In some situations, parents are clearly not reinforcing boundaries and allow children to get away with violent and anti-social behaviours. When parents repeatedly ignore or allow children to get away with unacceptable behaviour, they are only setting their child up for negative patterns to continue. Children require firm boundaries, and need to be taught from an early age, what is acceptable behaviour and what is not, as well as how to interact socially with other children. It was quite disturbing to read in the media yesterday that in Queensland, almost 400 children aged 4-6 were suspended from school for aggressive or socially unacceptable behaviour.
So what of the biological issues of aggressive behaviour? As any parent of a child with a diagnosed behavioural disorder, it is a difficult road of ‘Is this normal behaviour’ to unhelpful and negative comments from others about ‘naughty behaviour’. At what stage does a parent realise that the abusive and anti-social behaviours are not just a child pushing boundaries and being naughty, to something is not right with them medically.
Parents I have spoken to suggest that it is usually a combination of trying many methods to control the child, with little success, to professionals coming to the parent and explaining that there are some behavioural issues that need further investigation. Often a kinder (early childhood) teacher will pick up on continued anti -social and aggressive behaviour, or the early primary school teacher. In these cases, follow up is required with a GP and referral to a paediatrician who will conduct full behavioural analysis to hopefully reach a diagnosis and a way forward. We also need to be mindful, that as distressing as behavioural issues are for the parents and indeed the entire family unit, it must certainly cause a level of angst to the child itself as it battles through uncontrollable behaviours and usually a lack of social interaction with others.
Certainly this is a highly controversial and sensitive subject. I would love to hear your thoughts. In the meantime, I have included some helpful websites below if you are a parent dealing with a child who has behavioural issues. It’s not easy and you need a great deal of support. For more support with this issue, visit the following websites.
The Sydney Morning Herald