Parents who have the determination will find hope and the tools to help their children in Understanding Your Child’s Puzzling Behavior: A Guide for Parents of Children with Behavioral, Social, and Learning Challenges, by Steven E. Curtis, Lifespan, 2008. This book is for parents who have the desire to take charge of their childrens’ social, emotional, and academic health; the stick-to-it attention needed to detail their childrens’ actions and reactions; and the ability for detached observation. A huge task, but not undoable, if the book’s prescriptive methods and realistic advice are followed.
Curtis states that he uses the term puzzling throughout the book to avoid premature diagnoses or judgmental labels and emphasizes positive psychology. His goal is to help parents move through a thorough process of
- observing the child holistically, that is, in many environments and in various dimensions;
- documenting extensively through eight different worksheets (provided in the book and online) that are explained in detail;
- drawing conclusions about the possible causes of a child’s behavior; and
- developing a “specific strength-based” strategy to help the child overcome the puzzling behavior and seeking out professionals, if necessary, to help.
To do this, parents will learn about and employ the methods and resources used by developmental psychologists. He states that this may sound “may sound complex, but in actuality it is not.” When first introduced, understanding and using these tools indeed may seem out of reach for parents not trained in psychology, but he backs up his statement with step-by-step instructions, worksheets, explanations and examples. A determined parent could complete the process, gain insight into their child, and develop a plan of action.
Have I mentioned that the parent needs to be determined? That’s because, although Curtis lays out the methods and processes, putting them into practice will be a challenge for many parents. His advice to step back and observe without emotion or judgment or to interview others, if the parent can not observe directly, may be easier said than done. Will most parents be able to detach, when the health of their beloved child is at stake? That is the conundrum—in order to succeed they must step back and in order to follow through they must engage with love and commitment. Will teachers, counselors, and others who have significant contact with these children be able to give parents the time and similarly-detached observation necessary? In a perfect world the answer would be an emphatic, “yes, of course.” But in a busy world with multiple pressures upon these individuals, can they in practicality provide the attention and answers that are needed? When coordinating their children’s care with multiple providers, will these professionals accept the parents’ advocacy efforts and make the time to collaborate with each other?
These are the tough questions that lay at the heart of delving into the care and development of a child with puzzling behavior. And Curtis admits that these challenges become more difficult the more intractable or complicated the puzzling behavior. He also addresses the realities of frustration, financial strain, and the cycles of hope in the parents search but offers comforting and sensible advice.
Overall this book is a helpful start in giving parents a systematic approach and guide to understanding the terminology and methods used by educational, medical, psychological, and other practitioners who study and work clinically with children. If parents can speak the same language and approach professionals with good documentation, perhaps a greater understanding of the child’s puzzling behavior can be arrived at sooner and more effective solutions can be implemented.