This week’s Daily Record column: There is no such thing as a ‘bad’ child

Whenever we hear about or witness the plight of a parent struggling with a difficult child, we usually fall into two camps: Those of us who feel pity, and those of us who judge. Most of us will have done both at some point.

Channel 5’s Violent Child, Desperate Parents series recently told the story of single mum Lisa whose six-year-old daughter would often lash out at her.

A child psychologist was called in who came to the conclusion the little girl was confused as to who was in charge – her mother or her grandmother.

We always try to look for reasons within our own parenting when problems arise with our kids. But sometimes it’s just the way they’re made.

Whether it’s an undiagnosed disorder or something they grow out of, so much of the time a child’s behaviour is down to nature.

Then there’s the nurture aspect where parents who are overly permissive, neglectful (and that includes emotional neglect) or abusive can create problems.

But whatever the scenario, I refuse to believe a child is ever ‘born bad’. It’s something I’ve heard seemingly reasonable people come out with. ‘That kid was just born nasty.’ No. When it comes to children it’s never a case of good or evil, it is genetics versus the care they receive.

That’s borne out by the countless families with children who are polar opposites – one may be laid back and eager to please, while another is willful, highly strung and rarely does as they are told.

The good news is, with the right input, most – sadly not all – behavioural problems can be overcome. That was something I learned when my autistic son was in his early primary years and the specialist teachers who worked with him would tell me there were few situations they couldn’t make improvements in.

And the reality is that problems can arise at any stage in life – that’s why parenting is a permanent and long-term role.

I know mums and dads who have barely had a minute’s difficulty with their kids and then all of a sudden they realise they’ve stopped eating, or have been experimenting with drugs.

Often we ask, ‘Whose fault is that?’ But teenagers who are genetically programmed to feel highly anxious may look for ways to control their lives through their diet, or enjoy ‘checking out’ through drugs or alcohol.

Sometimes we as parents help create the conditions for them to mess up, other times it happens because of their personality type, or a mix of both.

But one thing is certain. No one gets through parenting without a hitch – and the best defence we have against the challenges to come is love.

First published in the Daily Record, Monday 12th March.