Is This Normal? My Journey to Accepting My Child’s Behavioral Disorder.

We knew what we were getting into, right?

Tantrums, sleepless nights, giant messes, unruly schedules. We enter into parenthood (mostly) prepared to tackle all of these things and more for the love of our children. We take on the responsibility of nurturing and teaching another human being how to become self-sufficient and to contribute to society, but while retaining a sense of self and individuality. Honestly, sometimes I think parenting is the most extreme sport there is.

Sometimes our children exhibit behaviors that make us wonder, “Is this normal?” or, “Is this healthy?” And the best we can do is talk to “professionals*”, consult the Oracle (Google), or lean on parenting communities who may have a tendency to be overly vocal with their opinions (yikes!).

*Before I go any further, let me clarify that I greatly respect and value the expertise of medical, educational, behavioral, and mental health professionals. But let’s be honest – the human brain is still an incredible mystery and much of what we do as parents is trial-and-error.

Parenting is complicated

There may come a time in your parenting journey where your child crosses the line from “normal” behavior into “concerning” behavior. For me, that moment was about 6 months ago. My beautiful, spunky, sweet-hearted 8-year-old daughter went from “full of personality” to “problematic” in the classroom. She went from “energetic” to “distracting”. And she went from way ahead in academic benchmarks to way behind.

Was this the first time issues surfaced at school? No. I will wholeheartedly admit that she suffers from a bit of only-child syndrome. She likes to be the center of attention. She’s always been on the chatty, squirmy, argumentative side of things, but never to a degree that raised any real concern for us as parents. We addressed these behaviors and simply did our best to focus on being considerate and compassionate with others. We have to combat the egocentrism she would naturally lean into as an only child.

And then we moved. Right before 3rd grade, we moved into our new house and new school district, with new teachers and new friends. She had to introduce herself to every person she talked to, to learn to navigate a new school building. There were new routines and expectations. The first half of the school year was incredibly challenging for all of us. We found ourselves on the teacher’s frequently-emailed list– something no parent ever wants.

The time to take action

We were combatting extreme argumentative behavior, defiance, declining academic performance, irresponsible and forgetful behavior, and persistent negativity. The school put her on a behavior management program that involved some one-on-one time with the guidance counselor and daily reports home to parents. Still, we chalked it up to the stress of switching schools. It wasn’t until a friend started talking about her child’s recent ADHD diagnosis that we began to consider any underlying cause of the challenges we were experiencing.

Within days, I had set up an appointment with her doctor, had her teachers fill out behavioral assessments, and did all the research I could possibly cram into my brain about ADD, ADHD, ODD, and Anxiety disorders in children. I read books, listened to podcasts, watched YouTube videos, and read parenting blogs. I let my type-A personality take over and made a sticker board to attempt some good old-fashioned positive reinforcement. That one worked – for a while- but man, it was a big commitment and a whole new habit to build.

The doctor gave us results three weeks ago with a formal diagnosis of Attention Deficit without Hyperactivity – commonly known as ADD. But I’m still waffling on a daily basis as to the correct course of action. Plus, I’m still a little bit in denial, I think.

It’s still just trial and error

I still believe that my child is this incredible, creative, imaginative, enthusiastic, determined, independent, ambitious, spunky little creature– which she is. She absolutely is. But she’s also distracted, impulsive, highly emotional, short-tempered, stubborn, defeatist, and kind of lazy. But hey, nobody’s perfect.

How do we as parents figure out how to balance out the negative and unwanted behaviors without also smothering the things that make our children unique and wonderful?

Tell me, how do we decide when to allow professionals to intervene in our children’s daily lives? How do we know when to proceed with behavioral therapies or medication? And how on EARTH are we supposed to teach our children how to be humans when we’re kind of still figuring that out for ourselves?

I’ve finally wrapped my head around the fact that- at the very least- she needs our help to overcome her brain’s natural tendencies. I have no idea what that looks like for our family yet. So, I’ll be sharing more about this journey as it continues to unfold.

Stay tuned.

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