Is My Kid Ok? Aggressive Behavior


Q: I read your column "Aggressive Behavior Might Be Normal" in the October issue. The 3-year-old child described by the parent acts just like my son did when he was 3. My son is now a young 5 and in preschool.

Fortunately, the biting has gone away, but it has been replaced by lots of pushing, hitting, talking back to teachers, name calling and not sitting down to do school work.

My husband and I have had him tested and observed over the last two years. He was diagnosed with ADHD. This year it has become obvious to us that he is also ODD (Oppositional/Defiant Disorder).

He falls apart when he gets to school. We've had brainstorming meetings with his teachers to come up with a game plan for helping him adjust to the more rigid school schedule (less time for play and more school work and center time). We have even cut back on his school schedule. We all are hoping that he will have more time to slowly adjust to the new routine, but nothing is working. He's also on 2.5 mg. of Ritalin, which I give him before school.

One of his teachers said he needs one-on-one counseling for the ODD. Is he old enough to really benefit from this? Are there people who specialize in working with children this age? Please advise.

A: No, your son is not too young to benefit from counseling and yes, there are people who specialize in working with young children and their families.

Depending on the child's age, the therapist may meet with the parents first, and the parents with their child on a follow-up visit. Other therapists may want to meet the child and parents together at the very beginning.

Counseling for young children is usually based on a play therapy and parent education/support model. Once the child has become comfortable in the play environment, he may also enjoy periodic play therapy one-on-one with the therapist. I usually work with very young children and their parents together.

Referrals to persons who specialize in working with and evaluating children may be obtained from your pediatrician, the local United Way In Touch Referral Service, your local Mental Health Association or local health care system's Behavioral Health Center's Assessment office. These referrals may often be obtained by making a telephone call.

For children who have not yet begun public school or its private equivalent, and who have been the focus of much concern for some time, I usually encourage parents to contact the local Developmental Evaluation Center (DEC) in Greensboro, (336) 334-5601. The DECs are usually in cities where a campus of the University of North Carolina is located. If there is a site closer to you, the Greensboro office will be able to provide their phone number.

Your child may be put on a waiting list at the DEC, but the subsequent evaluation is usually worth it. It is developmentally based, comfortable for parent and child and provides a lot of helpful information, along with any needed referrals.

Though aggressiveness in children may on occasion be part of the developmental process, it is frequently not appropriate. Many child development specialists are concerned about the rising tide of aggression in children. Others are concerned about the increasing numbers of children being diagnosed with mental disorders and placed on medication.

In addition, many child development specialists are worried about the "hurried child"— a lack of sufficient play time, an acceleration of academic demands into the preschool years and a tendency to disregard the developmental levels and learning styles of young children, especially boys. Recently there have been numerous articles focusing on the difficulty boys are having being successful in school, where their need for more hands-on and experimental learning opportunities are not met.

I appreciate your concern that your child has difficulty with behaviors his peers appear to be mastering. These problems are often complex and require a process of evaluation over time. You may consult a number of specialists before getting the full picture.

Due to the complexity of sorting out multiple factors, it is most important to reach out to your child's health-care practitioner or one of the referral sources listed above. If you have health insurance, you may also contact the company that provides your health-care benefits and request assistance and referrals.

It is probably best not to label your child before obtaining further assistance from professionals who specialize in helping children at risk. Ask a lot of questions about their qualifications and experience with children presenting problems similar to your child's, and don't hesitate to contact several referral options before making a decision.

Best wishes to you and your family as you seek support and guidance for your child.

Submit your questions via e-mail to clearpixel.gif Donna Hood is a professional counselor in private practice with Moses Cone.
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