Why is my Child Struggling? And what can I do about it?

By Renee Chillcott, LMHC

WHY IS MY CHILD STRUGGLINGIt’s an all-too-familiar story. Parents and their child(ren) sitting across the desk from me, hoping, searching, and desperate for guidance. Comments such as:
• “If it’s something he wants to do, he does it, if not, there’s a battle.”
• “He just needs to make better choices.”
• “I think it’s just a kid thing.”
• “I was the same way when I was his age and look how I turned out.”
•“He pays attention when it’s something he likes, such as video games.”
•“He’s just not liking school or getting along with the teacher.”

Typically, these children have been diagnosed by a teacher, pediatrician, psychiatrist or therapist and fall into one of these categories:
• ADHD (Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder)
• ODD (oppositional defiant disorder)
• Bipolar Disorder
• Mood Disorder
• Learning Disorder

But is this really what’s going on? And is medication the only answer?
Developmental Psychologist Erik Erikson calls the years between 5-12 the “Industrious” years.
He notes the following in 1959…

Industry (competence) vs. Inferiority
Children are at the stage (aged 5 to 12 yrs) where they will be learning to read and write, to do sums, to do things on their own. Teachers begin to take an important role in the child’s life as they teach the child specific skills.

It is at this stage that the child’s peer group will gain greater significance and will become a major source of the child’s self-esteem. The child now feels the need to win approval by demonstrating specific competencies that are valued by society, and begin to develop a sense of pride in their accomplishments.

If children are encouraged and reinforced for their initiative, they begin to feel industrious and feel confident in their ability to achieve goals. If this initiative is not encouraged, if it is restricted by parents or teacher, then the child begins to feel inferior, doubting his own abilities and therefore may not reach his or her potential.

If the child cannot develop the specific skill they feel society is demanding (e.g. being athletic) then they may develop a sense of inferiority. Some failure may be necessary so that the child can develop some modesty. Yet again, a balance between competence and modesty is necessary. Success in this stage will lead to the virtue of competence. (Simply Psychology, by Saul McLeod published 2008, updated 2013)

Although Erikson’s theories are from the late 50’s early 60’s, his insight and words of wisdom remain. However, today we are beginning to recognize that it’s not necessarily the restriction from parents and teachers that cause a disconnect in the fulfillment of this developmental stage, but rather a discord in their brain and/or body.

If your child has not begun speaking by age 4 or 5, then a speech delay diagnosis is made and intervention occurs to improve the situation. Similarly, if your child is not industrious and confident during this period of middle childhood (5-12 years old), they are medicated and told that there’s something wrong with them. Or worse, they are told that they are the problem and are not making good choices, which furthers the Inferiority Erikson speaks of.

As a Neurofeedback therapist, I see this inability to enjoy and be successful at school, trouble with peers, and chronic low self-esteem as a delay in functioning and is needing intervention. I look at what is going on inside their brain and body’s that is interfering with the child’s quest towards competence and then work hard to help correct the situation. By evaluating the child as a whole rather than just identifying behaviors checked off of a checklist, we can then treat the child as a whole, which they are.

Most diagnosis and treatment is done through an evaluation of symptoms. Symptoms such as:
• Always being on the go.
• Can’t sit still…anywhere.
• Impulsive behaviors or thoughts.
• Easily distracted.
• Not following directions.
• Requiring multiple re-directions.
• Oppositional, saying NO or refusing to work.

Erikson didn’t mention any of these diagnosis or symptoms when he was observing this developmental stage, yet so many kids suffer from an inability to achieve the Competence he speaks of.

The first step in helping your child is to identify what is delayed and where in the brain and body that may be coming from. In our office we will perform a clinical interview for a history and list of symptoms. Then, through a mix of experience, testing and reporting we can identify what is happening in the brain and in the body. Once identified, we use Neurofeedback and nutritional counseling as modalities for intervention.

Neurofeedback, also known as EEG biofeedback, has been studied and practiced since the late 60’s.  Neurofeedback is exercise for your brain. It allows you to see the frequencies produced by different parts of your brain in real-time and then through visual and auditory feedback, teaches the brain to better regulate itself. Neurofeedback can be used to help detect, stimulate, and/or inhibit activity in the brain safely and without medication. It can help restore a wider “range of motion” in brain states, much like physical therapy does for the body.