Incompatibility between your child’s characteristics and the demands that are placed upon her is one of the fundamental struggles of childhood. But how does a child convey those feelings of frustration, and is it necessary to turn to a psychiatric diagnosis? I explain all the options in my book Raising Human Beings: Creating a Collaborative Partnership with Your Child.
Adults have a tendency to concentrate too heavily on the signs of incompatibility, typically a kid’s behavior. Many mental health professionals have the same inclination. But behavior is just the means by which your child communicates that there is incompatibility. It’s the fever—the signal. To have influence, you’ll need to see beyond the behavior and focus on identifying and solving the problems that are causing it. Behavior is what’s going on downstream. You want to focus upstream, on resolving the incompatibilities that are causing the behavior.
If a child exhibits enough maladaptive behaviors enough of the time, then there’s an excellent chance she will meet criteria for one or more of the categories that many mental health professionals rely upon for rendering psychiatric diagnoses, which, in general, comprise long lists of undesirable behaviors. We could debate the pros and cons of childhood psychiatric diagnoses—in the interest of full disclosure, I find that they often do more harm than good— but one thing is certain: while a diagnosis certifies that there is incompatibility, it also implies that the source of the incompatibility is the child and therefore increases the likelihood that adults will be focused on fixing the problem child rather than on improving compatibility.