Agape Kids

Parenting Children with Emotional-Behavioral Issues

by Carolyn Knarr, MSW, LCSW

As a therapist and mother of a son with bipolar disorder, I have a special interest in working with children who have behavioral and emotional issues, and in supporting their families. Parenting is a difficult job, but parenting a child with ADHD, bipolar disorder, Asperger’s, or other challenges is exhausting and, at times, frustrating. Every day with these children can be like walking on egg shells.

Here are some practical parenting goals which I often incorporate into my work with parents:

Keep routines and rules clear. Set up a daily schedule and post it on the refrigerator. Write out rules and expectations, but keep it simple. Children like predictability and positive reinforcement. Many times in counseling we make behavior charts or visual schedules that help the child be accountable and responsible.

Don’t let behavior damage relationship. Emotionally connect with your child whenever the opportunity arises. Put aside your negative feelings at that moment and remember what an awesome kid they are underneath the behavior. Keep in mind that, as hard as it is to be their parent, it is even harder being a child with behaviors they often cannot control, and the frustration, social isolation, and low self-worth it can create.

Be aware of how your child’s behavior is affecting siblings. It is not easy being the brother or sister of an explosive or challenging child. Empathize with them, and work out ways to help them deal with the behavior. Don’t let one child be labeled “easy” and the other one “difficult.” They will pick up on this quickly. All children have strengths and weaknesses. Figure out your own “buttons” or trigger points and think about more positive ways of responding to the behavior that pushes these.

Normal is over-rated. Don’t compare your child to other children. Yours is unique. Your family’s day will be unique as well. Your expectations will be different, and the support your child needs will be much greater. Don’t let “normal” be your goal, as it will only lead to frustration. Allow your child to take ownership of their diagnosis, which will lead to more responsible decision-making as they mature. You will find that, once you truly accept your child’s limitations, your stress level and frustration will go down and you will be more prepared for the challenges.

Finally, use humor. Often my husband and I would have the choice between laughing and crying. When looking back at our day, we might pat ourselves on the back for making it through, and then laugh about what someone might say if they walked through our front door at any given moment. There’s nothing funny about having an emotional disorder, but I strongly believe humor is one of God’s gifts. (He did once speak through a jackass!)

You will need someone to walk the journey with you. Find supportive friends who don’t judge you, and don’t go into shock when you tell them about your life. But, just as important, find a professional who is knowledgeable about your child’s issues. I would be glad to be that someone. I help parents understand their child’s disorder, provide emotional support and hope, help them acquire specific parenting skills that fit their child, and advise them on being an advocate for their child. The therapy I do with the child is often play-based, with specific goals of teaching social skills, helping them follow rules and expectations, understanding of their strengths and differences, and strengthening family relationships.

Many of the children I see have been through loss or trauma and need help in the healing process.

Often parents or family members who bring in their child discover they need to heal as well. Fear often keeps clients and families from entering counseling. Other obstacles may be present as well. I would be happy to talk with you and help you feel more comfortable and confident about entering into the counseling process.


Carolyn Knarr Child Therapy St Louis AgapeAbout the Author:

Carolyn Knarr earned her Master’s Degree from Washington University, and has been counseling for over 20 years. She is a member of the National Association of Social Workers, and is a licensed clinical social worker.

Carolyn has a strong background in working with children and adolescents with ADHD, attachment disorder, trauma, bipolar disorder, and Asperger’s. She works closely with their families to help them with the emotional and behavioral aspects of these disorders. She utilizes play therapy, family therapy, and cognitive behavioral therapy, and is qualified to do psychological assessments with children. Carolyn also sees adult clients, couples, and families.

Through counseling, Carolyn helps her clients look at past and present relationship issues, communication patterns, and the potential for healing and growth.

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