The disorders your child does not have: The danger of mislabeling behaviour

The disorders your child does not have: The danger of mislabeling behaviour

Does your child really have a disorder, or is he just being a normal kid?

Increasingly, our children are diagnosed with a range of “disorders.” A fidgety child might be “diagnosed” with ADHD, and a slow reader with autism. Of course, in some cases, the diagnoses are solid and warrant a proper treatment plan for the child. But when does a child’s behaviour really belong to one of many childhood disorder symptoms? And when is it, well, just a child being a child? 

Experts are now calling for more rigour when labelling children as having a disorder. 

Researcher and Family Therapist Michael Ungar, Ph.D. is one such professional who has an issue with labelling everything as a disorder.

He explains, “Making the common and everyday struggles we confront as parents into a diagnosable disorder doesn’t serve our long-term need to provide all children with the support they require to thrive.”

He goes on to describe “questionable disorders” that he encounters in his profession. 

The disorders your child does not have: The danger of mislabeling behaviour

Does your child really have a disorder, or is he merely going through a tantrum phase?

“Childhood Disorder Symptoms” that Might Not Be Indicative of a Disorder
1. Conduct Disorder

Children push boundaries and younger ones especially, throw tantrums. It’s a normal part of growing up. When should we, as parents, be worried about our child’s “disruptive” behaviour? And when should we just accept it as a regular component of their development? 

Dr Ungar says, “In my experience, conduct disorder is a label we professionals lay on children who are annoying us adults. It adds absolutely nothing to treatment. It tells us nothing about why the child is ‘misbehaving.'”

He elaborates that by doing this, blame is firmly laid on the child, implying that they are the problem, rather than the lack of structure or discipline in their environment that should be provided by adults. 

2. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

A very small percentage of children have this organic neurological condition. The main symptom is the inability to focus, which creates issues at school. Dr Ungar accepts this is a real problem. 

But then he asks the following questions: “Why do as many as 5% of children carry this diagnosis, and why more boys than girls? And why do some cultures use the diagnosis more than others?”

He explains that what he often sees in his clinical practice “is a desire by educators and parents to ensure that children sit down and conform to classrooms that haven’t changed in a hundred years despite all that we know about children’s developmental needs (sitting in little desks for hours is not what we were designed to be doing).”

Dr Ungar’s challenge is to place a hyperactive child in a different kind of classroom to the traditional one. And if he still displays the same behaviour, then he’ll be convinced it is a real disorder.

In his words: “Let’s be sure that what we’re seeing isn’t a disordered environment rather than a disordered child.”

3. Personality Disorders

Dr Ungar explains that increasingly, both parents and professionals try to convince him that some of the kids he sees have Borderline Personality Disorder, or  Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

The former refers to the inability to have consistent attachments with others. Meanwhile the latter is a disorder where selfishness can blow up in violent behaviour. 

In adults – yes, some of these labels make sense. But Dr Ungar believes it is problematic to use these to label a child’s behaviour when by nature, most children are self-centred and narcissistic. 

His very down-to-earth advice:

“Our role as parents is, I think, to model empathy and philanthropy. Not to indulge our children with endless gifts, excuses for why they aren’t responsible for their failures, or cushioning them from every threat to their self-esteem.”

So parents, the next time someone tries to label your child, remember this article!


Source: Psychology Today

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Written by

Criselle Nunag

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