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At first glance, this is a guide
for parents who are confronted with a child who is always in a mood of sorts.
The "Moody" bit on the cover is in red, but in reality the title
should have been "How to cope with depression and bipolar disorder:
Raising a moody child", since the emphasis is on severe mood presentation
as a mental illness in children. On further reflection, a more adequate title
would be "Mood disorders in children: what they are and what you can do
Far from being a resource in do-it-yourself as a
parent, this book is a psycho-educational tool designed to help lay people
enter the world of professional help when their child is failing to think
rationally, act with purpose, and deal effectively with the environment.
So here is a parental nightmare,
the "Bad Kid" and here is the information about how you go about
getting help, even if it scares you to see your kid's personality, mood,
spirit, psyche, individuality, caste as pathology of a lasting, serious kind.
As the book notes early on, each successive generation appears to be producing
more and more mentally ill children, with a few comments on why this must be.
These include some ideas about toxic environs, dietary changes, increasing
stress in family life, use of stimulant or antidepressant medication, and
better detection capacity in mental health professionals. The book sets off
thus by saying that if your child has such-and-such a presentation, then one
must consider they are ill and need medication and therapy of various types,
all of which are then explained in some detail in very easy to understand language.
That is, if you are not sitting sobbing over the book as you find out that
little Spence is not just being difficult, you are not a lousy parent: he is
ill with some mental disorder process on the go that for some reason is more
prevalent at this time in our history than previously, and that he probably
inherited from us, his parents.
Case vignettes abound, pretty much
with the same details, but different names:
- Johnny (8 years old) is behaving badly
- Parents don't know what to do
- Take child to medical person
- Child is diagnosed as Bipolar
- Child is given medication
- Parent goes to psychologist to learn how to cope with self
- Therapy is not curative but helps you cope with fact child
To this end Part I of the book entails learning about what
it is that is wrong with your child, namely that their difficult, temperamental
and impossible behavior is likely to reflect on a DSM-IV illness, and the
essential issue of getting a good evaluation and then good treatment. Part II
revolves around the idea of treatment, based on medicine and therapy. Part III
is when the nitty gritty arrives, in the form of helping your child cope. The
philosophy put forward is that by then you will have laid a critical foundation
for helping by accepting the complexity of mood symptoms and syndromes, and how
to get the most from the treatments discussed, including all of the major
classes of drugs, alternative drugs, psychologist based therapies, ECT and the
like. Ten major issues are raised with respect to managing:
- Shrug off blame and take action
- Be realistic
- Don't over or under-regulate
- Keep it simple
- Be flexible
- Choose your battles
- Become expert problem solvers
- Be good communicators
- Name the enemy
- Share the joy and the pain.
All good solid advice?
The first part: the idea here is that self-blame and guilt can
blind you to the origins of your child's problems, or that the problem exists
at all. Let's say that after a divorce, your child is miserable; the
psychologist will be able to perhaps diagnose them as adjustment disorder with
depressed mood, and treat this. The parent will then have the epiphany that
the child's unhappiness is really a problem, not Dad's fault, and then begin
appropriate treatment which in this case means engaging the parent into activity
with the child to end their illness, or sorry, perhaps that was to make them
happier, I forget.
Part two: now that the label is that of "mood-impaired
child" one has to be reasonable, and mood disorders vacillate in severity,
knowing what to expect from a child recovering from this disorder is best left
to the advice of the clinician. Obviously there are good tips for parents about
decreasing expectations, good advice in all, but at the bottom is the
invocation to believe, namely to accept that the child has an illness from
which he or she needs to recover and move on accordingly. All the good advice
in this book seems to demand the sine qua non that is a biopsychosocial
approach, and that the point of departure is that these are illnesses like any
other with the appropriate names.
Part three: Nothing more here than a plea for consistent
parenting without too many or no rules, a Goldilocks clause if ever there was
Part four: as it sounds, their motto is simplify, simplify,
simplify, or actually, create categories encompassing many rules and
coagulating them into one for each group, rather than be confusing.
Part five: Just what it says, again, from the point of view of
Part six: More of the flexibility rule here, but introducing the
very nice rule about negotiation versus an attempt at draconian parenting, just
about forgotten or ignored by every parent I have seen as a professional.
Part seven: Here, one is expected to become expert at problem
solving. What this means is a seven-step approach to tackling conflict.
Identify the problem, decide who needs to know, define the possible solutions
with the child involved as well, work out the pro's and cons, pick a solution
and try it, evaluate if it worked, and try again if it doesn't from the
solution list. Seems like solid stuff.
Part eight: Being a good communicator here applies to anyone. The
tips involve listening without correcting what the child asserts are issues, or
concerns, or feelings. Next is to ask if your child wants to hear the solution
you propose before you do it, choose your battle and then talk directly to the
child about your concerns, make small issues into big ones so they don't become
real big ones, emphasize the positive, and give negative feedback in a calm,
unemotional voice, make more positive than negative comments, remember the body
language, and avoid playing 20 questions, that is, don't pester the kid about
what is going on inside.
Part nine involves labeling symptoms of illness as symptoms of
illness, rather than as personality traits (that are their fault presumably, or
Part ten involves sharing the pain with others so there is less
of a burden by sheer division of load.
Chapter nine embarks on providing
coping skills for moody children, and the first one offered is that of a
"tool kit". In this kit are the tools to enable children to escape
the internal pressure generated by the putative illness, in four categories,
namely physical, creative, social, and R&R. Building up the items in the
kit involves the parent and child sitting together and co-creating in each
category so that there are a few, age- appropriate devices to call upon in each
of the four categories.
Dividing up the overwhelming tasks
is offered next, namely avoiding the child choking on an everyday task that
feels impossible, by dividing the whole into digestible chunks, each a goal
unto itself as opposed to going for the full Monty in one hit, a kind of
scaffolding or graded competition approach Vygotsky would have approved on, baby
steps in rehabilitation.
Managing mania by putting a brake
system into place is a way of avoiding the crash and burn effect when too much
is started out on, with ending all of it satisfactorily beyond the capacity
when the kid flames out: putting on the brakes early means more is completed
with less open ends smoldering away and letting the child feel diminished by
the weight of unfinished business.
In keeping with ideas of intrinsic
reward, helping the child reach its own solutions is also preferred to the
answering of questions. In the same vein, choosing which parent has the best
capacity in defined situations and letting them deal with that situation is
also advised, kind of like "just wait until the specialist comes
Sleep hygiene enforcement is
encouraged, as well as adopting a pre-emptive strike position by identifying
antecedents of behaviors, and thus acting early on rather than later, when the
problem has taken hold and running along nastily. In this scenario, triggers
are important to identify and avoid or contain. Signals that something is about
to get nasty are the time to intervene surreptitiously and thus limit the
public confrontation. And of course, finally, this all goes to early warning
and the prevention of relapse.
This last point is perhaps hardly
emphasized. Although the book acknowledges early on that treatment is
necessary, there is only passing acknowledgement of the recidivism rate in
major depression and bipolar disorders, without too much comment on why this
should be so in such an authoritative work. Part of the dreadful burden is
that there is the presumption of recurrence and only little attention paid to
recovery as a consumer doctrine.
The tenth chapter is devoted to
then working with the other psychosocial venue for depression, the environment
of the school in which the symptoms play themselves out, affecting performance
and the opinions of others. Loss of interest, fatigue, concentration,
agitation and retardation, poor judgment, speed of inward and outward speech, and
then of course secondary factors such as peer problems and social isolation are
noted. In here too are the problems caused by side effects of medication, the
act and process of taking medication in a public venue, all create their own
problems. Attention to the role of the stigmata of diagnosis might have been
nice here, but is not dealt with, in any event not until some 40-50 pages
A collaborative but realistic
approach to interacting with the school over these issues is adopted, clearly a
reasonable approach. Ideas surface with regard to specialized attention from
qualified teachers, and rights to receive special attention under the laws of
the USA. The role of various school specialists is discussed, namely school
psychologists, OT's, principals, teachers, social workers, special ed
coordinators, physical therapists, speech language pathologists, and so on is
introduced. Methods are proposed for getting such services allocated.
A host of examples follow of
parents and schools getting creative.
Chapter Eleven speaks of crisis
management, referring to safety issues, the need to predict and think ahead,
the role of the ER and the police, and staying ahead of the game again in
mania, and avoiding the exacerbation of the already parlous situation.
Managing suicide attempts is obviously important, and gets some attention here.
Part IV now turns to helping the
family live with the mood disorder (not the child, "living with a mood
disorder" is the term used.
Focusing initially on a
"negative family cycle", the authors refer to the cycle of parents
trying to help, then feeling jaded and losing a sense of efficacy, withdrawing
and becoming punitive, feeling guilty and over compensating, burning out and
withdrawing and fighting amongst each other and so on, until the cycle is
punctuated by intervention. Interventions are described, or rather attitudes
proposed to deal with avoiding the perpetuation of this cycle.
In dealing with the stigma, the
idea of social isolation is also addressed, and rightly so. However, this is
clearly a personal and variable decision, so little real guidance can be given
on who to tell and who to avoid, and why.
The next chapter deals more
specifically with the same question, but more narrowly with regard to the
siblings and their adjustment to the child's condition. As in brain injury, the
impact on siblings is seldom addressed directly.
Finally, in the last chapter, turning to the carer,
some advice is given on caring for the carer, again, a neglected tradition here
and in brain injury too. The major focus is on combating isolation, meeting
your own needs as a carer, respite care and the sharing of parental
responsibility and duties, and finally but most important, the preservation of
the couple as a unit are all focused on. The idea of managing stress and
taking advantage of the free diversions available such as exercise and
nutrition all are noted. Attitudes are targeted, such as remaining hopeful
(despite the bad news earlier, one sentence refers to the idea of new treatments),
avoiding the martyr role, recognizing negative feelings and grieving are
Overall the book, despite a little
confusion in the title, covers what is know about the affective disorders in
children, and gives a fair amount of detail and advice about what to do. It
covers the obligatory areas, but the same conundrums that drove parents to buy
such a helpful book will still remain:
- Are we to accept these are illnesses for which one needs
- What about recovery without recidivism
- How reliable, valid, consistent are these diagnostic
categories, and why the increasing burden, what is wrong with society
- Why the exceptional bad press about giving medication to
children, making it worse, increasing restless actions and creating more
- If stress in daily living appears to be a factor, what are
schools and educators doing to lighten the load
- How do I deal with people at school knowing my kid is
- How do I deal with the guilt of passing on genes that I
must now admit made my kid sick?
Without trying to be, this book
follows the standard approach in medicine that kids are sick, will be sick,
must be given medication for the most part, that these illnesses are pretty
much there for life, and we need to accept that this is it for life mostly, and
if we don't, it's a form of abuse.
My own practice over the years has
been filled with parents who would not accept the validity of diagnosis, took
the illness on head on and refused medication or DSM-IV labels, spent heaps of
time on various therapies such as family and behavioral therapy, and even when
the child was struggling, refused to go the medication roundabout and changed
their family structure, life, eating and sleeping habits.
Here are two professors of
psychiatry presenting their experience and their model with mostly success,
writing in a fairly banal way of human experiences that are dreadful, and
really making the point that these are largely incurable illnesses. Does this
not beg the question to which the answer is that the treatment paradigms
followed in the model are not quite acceptable to many, and that there are
Treatment research in other
modalities has high levels of success; the evidence base for CBT in the hands
of a good therapist speaks of treatment being efficacious in 80/90% of cases.
Family therapy models are still showing good evidence bases in alcohol related
illness and other conditions, and these after all emerged in the 50's and 60's
in response to the failure of therapies that placed illness inside the body of
the patient, particularly in adolescence, and what was then called 'juvenile
Many cultures across the world have
a different view of such illnesses, often with very high rates of recovery. We
all accept that there must be a vulnerability that encodes somehow from genes,
but how does this affect treatment and the application of biopsychosocial
paradigms that still see the process as one of intracorporeal illness?
So while many parents in western
societies will find this book and its wealth of carefully considered
information and advice comforting, many others will find it disquieting, and
reject its implications, which is a pity. Many others will investigate its
chapters and find not enough in the "what can I do to address these issues
directly" arena without resorting to an acceptance of a diagnosis of some
putative mental illness, and the administration of pills that clearly have
received some nasty press.
I think most parents will have
serious questions to ask their professionals, and that the general mistrust of
psychiatrists will continue, with the same parents rejecting the presumption of
medical illness in these extreme kids. The press will continue to present the
case that medication is dangerous and that how and why it works when it does is
little understood, especially with Black Box warnings for children.
The argument in the book often is
that too little or too much serotonin epitomizes the depressed or manic
patients, so where is the blood test for serotonin? Indeed, if there were just
too little we should get more, but perhaps that would make us nauseous or
cardiotoxic and it's the way in which it is available around the synaptic cleft
etc etc; but parents don't need to know those arguments, and in any event there
is dopamine, noradrenaline, too much or too little, where, and why, obviously
this is not known and the book should make that more plain, without getting
into GABA, Glutamate, or excitotoxicity.
The confidence expressed in the
book is not there in the literature, and parents within range of a TV or
newspaper will know there are raging controversies around the views in the
Having said that, Fristad and
Goldberg Arnold have closed a gap in the market, tried to mainline the
exceptionally moody and troubled kid as a diagnosis entity, and coax parents
into moving past questioning, healthy or not, the reality of these as
illnesses, and into taking action.
I am not sure that is always fair
comment, but if you can overlook these philosophical issues, then the parents
may calm themselves down and in reading the book accept that so much is indeed
known, and that there is some system of amelioration out there, even if acts of
faith, if not leaps of faith, have to be contemplated.
I for one remain as cautious of the
psychiatric view of childhood illnesses as ever, and the process of diagnosis,
as so little is known. Now, what is known is in one book, and within its
genre, it's the best I have seen.
© 2005 Roy Sugarman
PhD, Clinical Director: Clinical Therapies Programme, Principal Psychologist:
South West Sydney Area Health Service, Conjoint Senior Lecturer in
Psychiatry, University of New South Wales, Australia.