Parenting is tough.
It’ll chew you up and spit you back out. It’ll wring your heart out until it’s dry. It taxes the mind, burdens the heart, and dominates your prayers—all while demanding constant creativity. You become a strategist, investigator, and commander, as well as a comforter, counselor, and coach. You must be fair, patient, willing to be inconvenienced, diligent in training, and protective of your child’s innocence.
Every decision has major consequences—from how you give birth to how you choose to educate. To survive, you develop a thick skin against both tears and tantrums while bearing up under the scathing criticism of everyone—from your own family to the irritable lady at the grocery store.
Are you ready for the hardest part of this gig?
These kids have free will.
You could do everything “right” and they might still choose wrong.
Parenting is a challenge under the best circumstances.
Now, throw in some three- and four-letter word disorders and you’ve just added both a labyrinth and a minotaur into the mix. Apart from the obvious problem of poor diagnoses and limited treatment options, the parent has to deal with the fact that most people believe these disorders are fabricated.
I bring this up as part of our series because Christians—just as much as non-Christians—tend to exact criticism on children and parents in ignorance of possible mental disorders. The parents of these children *might* be lazy or poor at parenting just as much as parents of “normal” children. On the other hand, they might be doing everything in their power to fix the problem… and getting nowhere.
And then, there’s the children…
Kids with disorders struggle. They cope with ostracism. They deal with the normal challenges of “growing up” while grappling with difficulties most people cannot comprehend. Teachers label them “bad kids” or give them the one-eyebrow stare. Parents get exasperated and impatient. Kids avoid them. Doctors slap them with labels and pump them full of chemicals. Instead of being treated like a precious soul, they are viewed as an inconvenient problem.
We must learn to be compassionate while also training them up properly—a challenge of Everest-like proportions.
Let’s talk about three of these disorders that sound like expletives, shall we?
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder/Attention Deficit Disorder.
This is one of the most commonly diagnosed behavioral disorders.
Symptoms of this disorder include:
- trouble concentrating
- does not seem to listen when spoken to directly
- often struggles to follow directions completely
- difficulty organizing tasks
- frequently losing things
- runs or climbs when inappropriate
- talks excessively
- has trouble waiting
- may interrupt or blurt out frequently
Sometimes, people rush to label kids as ADHD who are just being kids in need of simple, straight-up discipline. If you suspect that your child or a child in your care has ADHD because they manifest these symptoms, consult with a specialist.
Note: While I am not a doctor, I do have experience as a parent dealing with disorders. I do not recommend accepting a blanket diagnosis from a General Practioner or Pediatrician. These doctors are excellent at what they do and a great source for recommending specialists, but their knowledge tends to be of a generalized nature and could lead to misdiagnosis. For a disorder of this kind, it is best to consult specialists with the resources to perform focused testing and evaluations. Do not hesitate to get a second or third opinion before pursuing treatment.
Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Most people think of Autistic children as arm-flapping, vacant, and uncommunicative. While those are symptoms of some autistic children, it is not all-inclusive. Autism Spectrum Disorder covers a broad range of symptoms (hence the word “spectrum”). Many children are considered “high-functioning,” which means it is difficult for outsiders to recognize the symptoms because the majority of their behavior is “normal.”
Symptoms of ASD include (but are not limited to):
- Getting upset by a slight change in a routine or being placed in a new or overly stimulating setting
- Making little or inconsistent eye contact
- Having a tendency to look at and listen to other people less often
- Often talking at length about a favorite subject without noticing that others are not interested or without giving others a chance to respond
- Repeating words or phrases that they hear, a behavior called echolalia
- Repeating certain behaviors or having unusual behaviors
- Having overly focused interests, such as with moving objects or parts of objects
- Having a lasting, intense interest in certain topics, such as numbers, details, or facts.
Autism is a fraught with challenges for the entire family. If you are aware of a family dealing with this disorder, offer the same kind of help you would offer if their kid had cancer. This is not a brief ordeal; this is a life-long challenge!
(source: Symptoms listed above are copied from the NIMH website; click the link for additional symptoms and information.)
Sensory Processing Disorder/Sensory Integration Disorder.
SPD is considered a neurological disorder in which incoming sensory information is improperly processed by the brain. It has been likened to a “traffic jam” in the brain. A pair of jeans might feel like sandpaper. The feel of a strawberry on the tongue might be startling. A room full of noise may cause panic.
- difficulty performing fine motor tasks such as handwriting
- awkward or clumsy
- confuses similar sounding words
- overwhelmed at the playground or in crowded places
Understood.org has a brief, but helpful article entitled 5 Tough Situations for Kids With Sensory Processing Issues.
For a more complete list of symptoms, check out this free resource from the STAR institute.
Can you see how parenting a child (or being a child) with any of these disorders is problematic?
Most would agree (as would I) on the following statements:
- Parents and teachers should have expectations for proper behavior.
- Parents should not make excuses for a child’s behavior, but rather correct it.
That being said…
If you have a child with any of these disorders, you know it’s not as simple as “laying down the law.” Setting realistic standards is helpful for every child, but to be effective, you’ll need to get creative in your training techniques.
When criticizing parents, many will point at obvious Bible passages (“he who spares the rod hates his son,” or “train up a child in the way he should go,” etcetera), not even thinking that those parents could be employing these very verses to little effect.
These two proverbs are of equal importance in your parenting endeavors:
“Where there is no guidance the people fall, but in an abundance of counselors there is victory,” (Prov. 11.14)
“A wise man will hear and increase in learning, And a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel.” (Prov. 1:5)
My advice to any struggling parent is to seek wise counsel from multiple sources. Don’t try to go it alone when it comes to parenting; this task should never be taken lightly. There is no shame in consulting a professional counselor.
Above everything else, get on your knees and pray. The best counselor, the best listener, is the Lord who sees all and understands best. Pray for your child. Pray for wisdom to raise them properly. Pray for them to have mentors, teachers, and friends who will guide them in the right direction. For more ways to pray for your child, check out this post.
My fellow parents, I urge you: Do not neglect prayer or wise counsel.
This post is the barest glimpse into childhood disorders. I haven’t even covered obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), Asperger’s, dyslexia, dyspraxia, tourettes, anxiety, bipolar disorder, etcetera. And let’s remember something else: these disorders don’t vanish when they reach adulthood. Many of these challenges follow them into adulthood!
We are commanded to love our neighbor as ourself. Understanding these difficulties can help us fulfill that command more completely. We do not learn about these disorders to make excuses for ourselves or others; we seek knowledge in order to approach the problem more effectively and exercise compassion more fully.