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Are Parents the Root of Behavioral Problems?

Children diagnosed with mental disorders are increasingly being treated with psychotropic drugs. But an editorial in Monday’s issue of the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine urged health providers to emphasize the role of caregiver relationships in the mental development of children, according to the Los Angeles Times.

In other words, doctors should focus on the role parents are playing in their child’s disruptive behavior before prescribing drugs.

Haven’t we moved beyond the antiquated notion that parents are the root of children’s psychological problems? Sure, environment plays a role, but genes do too.

Most parents I know take the decision to medicate their child pretty seriously. By the time they agree to treat their child with psychotropic drugs for depression, bipolar disorder or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, most parents have exhausted other options.

In their commentary, Dr. David Rubin and Kathleen Noonan, an attorney, both with the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, note that it’s easy to label misbehaving kids with with depression, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, bipolar disorder, conduct disorder or other diagnosable mental illnesses that often lead to drug therapies. Instead, they suggest, doctors should focus on the child’s relationship to his caregivers as the root of the behavior problem.

Sure, in some cases, doctors over-prescribe medications to treat behavioral problems in children. But, it’s a bit harsh to say that the caregivers are the roof of the problem, don’t you think?

“Missing from the discussion is that at the heart of many of these disruptive behaviors are the biological effects of failed relationships, failed attachment, and multiple traumatic disruptions,” the authors wrote.

Suggesting that instead of psychiatric diagnoses and medications, therapies should focus on relationships. They mention Parent-Child Interaction Therapy as a promising alternative.

Healthy relationships with caregivers could have a significant impact on child health and, they said, “lead to the sustained changes in the brain that will promote resiliency in children.”

Of course, positive relationships with caregivers are crucial and over-prescribing psychotropic drugs for kids is a legitimate concern. But it’s also important that children with serious behavioral or mental problems receive medical attention when necessary.

Photo: flickr/Thomas Hawk

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