A: One of the most difficult parts about parenting is that kids don’t come with a reference manual: we don’t have a guide book about how we are supposed to parent or what can be expected from our children. Especially when a child is your first or when you are not around a lot of other children, it is hard to know what is typical behavior and what is not. So it is often helpful for parents to consult with a child’s pediatrician to get a good reading on whether a child’s behavior, emotions, and development are within expected parameters or not. But when a child is having behavioral difficulties, the issue is not necessarily whether the behavior falls in the “typical” range or not: the issue really is whether the behavior is causing significant problems and interference in the life of the child and the family. If a child’s behavior is problematic, there is no need to wait for problems to get severe before seeking help: as long as the behavior is a problem, it is enough of a problem to warrant getting help. In fact, seeking help before a problem gets too big can help avoid bigger problems, in the same sense that a parent doesn’t have to wait until a child is failing at school to get him tutoring. Seeking therapy from a child psychologist can help a parent learn the techniques to address a child’s behavior, avoid future problems, and learn ways to actually enjoy being with the child. In addition, if the child is having any significant problems, a psychologist can help the parent get other appropriate services, such as early intervention services to address any delays. A pediatrician can give a parent the name of a clinical psychologist who specializes in working with children, and other parents can also be a good source for the name of a good psychologist.
Even if a child’s behavior is “typical”, though, that doesn’t mean that it is necessarily easy to deal with. Particularly when one is a single parent, the demands of parenting can be overwhelming. Add to this a child whose behavior is more difficult than that of other children –it is one of the unfair truths of life that some children are easy to raise but others simply are not – and things can easily become overwhelming, especially if a parent has additional stressors in her life. So it is important that every parent takes care of his or herself. Parents may feel guilty about taking time for themselves or finding someone to take care of their child so they can have some respite, but keep in mind that you are doing this not just for yourself, but also for your child. You owe your child the best of you: if you are an overstressed, emotional wreck, you will not be the best parent that you can be. So parents can ask a friend or relative to occasionally watch a child, and even take turns watching their children in return, or a parent may consider a “Mother’s Day Out” program or daycare.