Distrubed and Distrubing Behaviour

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It is sometimes claimed that parents are the primary cause of disturbed and disturbing behaviour in their children. Discuss evidence for and against this claim. Many development psychologists refer to children’s behaviour as “typical”, however not all children conform to this style of behaviour. There are a minority of children who do not adjust well to situations in which they find themselves; their behaviour can be seen as difficult, bizarre, disturbed or disturbing (Woodhead, Rhodes & Oates 2005). Psychosocial developmental problems do not necessarily have biological causes and psychologists will often look to features of the child’s social environment to be able to understand the cause of these problem behaviours (Woodhead et al., 2005). It has often been claimed that parents are the primary cause of their children’s disturbed or disturbing behaviours. This essay will give an overview of the perspectives around problem behaviour and define what is meant by disturbed and disturbing behaviour in children. It will provide evidence to support the claim that parents are the primary cause of shaping problem behaviours in their children. Identify the role that children play in the development of disturbed behaviours and how this interacts with parental responsiveness. Finally consider the relevance of a transactional model on the parent-child process and how this links to disturbed behaviours.

There are two psychological perspectives around problem behaviours in children, the medical model which describes problem behaviours as “disorders”. These are deemed to be part of the child’s psychological makeup and therefore view the child as the centre of explanation for these problem behaviours. (Woodhead et al., 2005, pg57). However, in terms of emotional and behavioural difficulties it is believed that these are part of the developmental processes that takes place in social relationships both at home and at school (Woodhead et al., pg57). The second psychological perspective is the social environment model whereby problem behaviours are likely to occur due to disturbed patterns of parenting, for example lack of discipline or abusive parenting (Woodhead et al., 2005).

Disturbed and disturbing behaviour can have multiple meanings, for example it can be about children whose behaviour is being disturbed, too children whose behaviour is disturbing to others (Woodhead et al., 2005, pg58). Difficulties arise when the behaviour and goals of a child do not conform to “goodness of fit”, for example a child whose characteristics do not show a good fit to their social context will be deemed as poorly adjusted. Also a child’s age is important when making judgements about the appropriateness of their behaviour. For example, a clinging 1 year old may well have a strong attachment to the parent or caregiver; whereas a 6 year old who behaves in the same way may be viewed as having problem behaviours. Disturbed and disturbing behaviour is classified when a child’s behaviour is deemed to be outside of tolerance and age appropriateness (Woodhead et al., 2005, pg60). Liu et al (1999) identified five risk factors associated with the development of problem behaviours in children. These are social background, parental attitudes to child, mother’s maternal state, father’s behaviour and marital relationship and interaction between maternal and paternal factors (Woodhead et al., 2005, pg67).

There are a number of pathways that can lead to disturbed behaviours, for example the way in which the parents behave can significantly affect the way in which the child behaves. Woodhead et al (2005) identified a number of studies which has suggested that problem behaviours in children are related to difficulties in the relationship with their mother. This could be a reflection of the mothers’ mental state and have a significant influence on the behaviour of the child. Ainsworth (1993) described maternal sensitivity as an aspect of parenting...
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