Consider the following. You and your spouse have a child who has to be watched every minute. You have to hide your purse and wallet because he goes into them and steals money. You can't leave him alone in a room with a younger sibling because he will bully that child, break his toys, or injure him. Any request you make turns into a battle ground. You receive calls from the school that he is disrupting class and not completing his work. Any family gathering is ruined by this youngster's defiance, mean-spiritedness, and refusal to participate in activities. Every time you attempt to correct him, you are met with a firestorm of name calling and blame.
Because this youngster is compelling you to attend to him constantly, you find yourself neglecting your other children who are doing what they are supposed to. Your home is in turmoil and family life has deteriorated into an unending series of battles with few calm moments for anyone.
Understandably, you and your spouse often disagree about how to respond to this misbehaving youngster. One of you keeps striving to set boundaries, impose consequences, and is willing to police this child. The other seeks to avoid conflict, makes excuses for the youngster, and thinks you are overreacting.
I have encountered scenarios such as this many times during decades of working with families who have children manifesting severe conduct disorders. Mothers and fathers understandably go through periods of denial, hoping that what they are seeing represents just a stage of development. Unfortunately, it is a stage that never ends. Antisocial patterns of conduct expand and intensify.
There is no semblance of a peaceful family life in these homes. Siblings of such a child find that their parents often are in a bad mood, are constantly exhausted, and are neglecting them. All family members are the victims of this youngster. I have watched marriages become frayed because of unending conflict. The defiant child plays one parent against the other, exploiting their differences. I have seen parents' resentments toward each other mount to the point that they decide they can no longer live together. Even after they divorce, this child continues to pit one against the other.
It is essential that parents cooperate and, despite occasional disagreement, maintain a united front in dealing with this difficult son or daughter. Their other, more responsible children have only one childhood. They deserve attention, support, and nurturance from their parents.
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