Just A Rebellious Kid? Or ADHD?

By Nathan Lumbatis, Ed.S., LPC, NCC (And some other letters that don’t make sense to normal people)

What are the warning signs that your child’s poor behavior may be growing into something worse?  How can you tell the difference between problems like ADHD and just plain rebellion? When should you bite the bullet and ask someone outside of your family for help with parenting ideas? When should you consider getting your child tested for something like ADHD instead of trying another discipline plan?

Good questions. Every parent would love to have these answered in black and white, but it can be daunting and confusing sorting through all the books, articles, blogs, and websites written on the subject, not to mention the varying opinions of your friends and families. Of course, we also have to throw into the mix the counselor’s opinion, the teacher’s note sent home pinned to your child’s backpack, and your precocious, little angel’s thoughts on the matter. The school year is in full swing, and with it the inevitable, emotionally-charged problems many parents face when dealing with their children’s behavior. But with all these opinions floating around, how do we know who to listen to and what action to take?

I believe we must first realize that our priority in parenting is to “nurture our children in the fear and admonition of the Lord” in order to “Train [them] in the way [they] should go, [so that] when they are old, they will not turn from it” (Ephesians 6:4 and Proverbs 22:6).

These verses, among others, seem to link the presence of discipline with the growth of Godliness in a child’s heart. Because the issue of discipline is so evidently important, let me emphasize that no one’s opinion should take the place of seeking the Lord’s will through prayer. Always go to God first, acknowledging that neither you, nor anyone, knows your child or teen’s heart better than God. Also, take time to affirm that raising children is an exercise in stewardship—taking care of what is really God’s and not ours. In other words, our goal should be to sensitize ourselves to God’s perspective and plan in parenting rather than to the that of the latest trend in psychology. After this, it may be easier for us to pick out the truth from the wisdom of the world, which is in a state of constant flux. Even with this perspective, however, it can be difficult sorting through all the information touted as Biblically-based. To make it easier, here are two lists of questions, compiled from Biblically sound sources I trust, which may help guide you in assessing two important questions:

1) How can I tell if my child’s present behavior is the foundation for rebellion, and

2) Is my child’s acting-out behavior being complicated by ADHD?

Red Flags of Childhood Often Leading to Rebellion

  • Does your child often lie?
  • Does she often end up being served and/or accommodated by the rest of the family, and expect it?
  • Does he often play one parent against the other?
  • Has she learned to draw you into long arguments?
  • Has he learned how to manipulate arguments in order to delay consequences?
  • Does she often blame others for mistakes she makes?
  • Does he often lash out when given constructive criticism?
  • Does she often react with anger and hostility when punished?
  • Does he often display outward signs of morality only, and not any true desire for the things of God?
  • Does she often disobey and not show any signs of true remorse?
  • Do you find yourself being inconsistent with consequences?
  • Do you often decide on a punishment but rescind it once your child decides to act better?
  • Do you often feel like your child controls you emotionally?
  • Do you often feel that his behavior is obnoxious, but hesitate to take any action because of an inevitable fight?

Indicators That ADHD Is Complicating Behavioral Problems (Many from above, PLUS, many of the following)

  • Do consistently implemented consequences (same consequences for 3 weeks or more) seem to have no effect on helping your child focus on tasks?
  • Do positive rewards seem to have little effect on his ability to make better grades or behavior?
  • Is she frustrated with her own behavior but not seem to be able to stop herself more often than not?
  • Does he seem to struggle with following a succession of instructions, even when carefully explained?
  • Is she forgetful in her daily activities?
  • Does he seem to completely lose track of time more often than not?
  • Regardless of how much you give pointers or attempt to help her, does she have difficulty organizing/prioritizing tasks?
  • No matter how many times you explain how to ignore the TV, the bird out the window, the kids playing across the street, or the baseball cards on the table, does he seem drawn to distraction and daydreaming?
  • Does she often interrupt conversations?
  • Does it seem almost impossible for him to sit quietly and not talk or do something active?
  • Does she always want to be doing something fun?
  • Does he seem to do much better when there is structure, but fall apart when there is none?
  • Does she seem like she is constantly on the go and energetic?
  • Does he struggle with normal bedtimes regardless of when you put him down for the night?
  • Is he reckless, regardless of the consequences?
  • Does she often say things to people which offends them?

If you find yourself answering yes to more of the questions from list one than list two, there is a good chance that you are dealing with issues which are primarily behavioral—stemming from your child’s own self-centered, sinful, willful nature, inconsistent parenting, or likely both. And by the way, no judgment, people. I’m far from a perfect parent too; consistency is hard.

Back to the issue: these are problems which can be solved, behaviors which can be changed through the consistent, loving discipline of spiritual parents. Depending on the severity of the behavior, they may be easily handled without outside intervention. If the state of their behavior has reached a level where you, the parent, feel out of control, however, you may find seeking an extra-familial perspective helpful.

If you found both lists describe your child:

1) Your child may not be disobedient to an abnormal level, but might nevertheless struggle with impaired ability to focus and/or control impulsive behavior, and

2) You and your child might benefit from professional help. There are many ways to go about seeking such help, but my recommendation is that you look for a practice with objective methods of assessment with professionals who are careful with diagnosing and conservative when it comes to medicating children.

So, if your child is acting rebellious, disrespectful, disorganized, and/or incapable of focusing and you are wondering what steps to take, consider the following plan of action:

1) Pray with your spouse to seek God’s direction

2) Make a list of your child’s behaviors which you deem as problematic

3) Make a list of how you normally deal with these behaviors (e.g. Ignore them? Punish them? Give in over time? Spank? Erratic consequences? Change punishments to lessen the severity? Etc.)

4) Confront yourself with what the Bible says about discipline. Are you in line with God’s plan?

5) Consider reading the following books: Boundaries with Kids, by Cloud and Townsend, Shepherding a Child’s Heart, by Ted Tripp and  Parenting With Love and Logic, by Cline and Fay. Neither of these books is perfect, but they present concepts which are Biblically based and can be used to help you diagnose where you may be week in your approach to parenting.

6) Finally, if changing your parenting approach doesn’t work, then consider enlisting the help of an objective third party who can guide you with Godly counsel.

Did I mention Counseling Resources has three child therapists?

If you’d like to talk with myself, Carrie Mega, LPC, or Lori Chancy, LPC about parenting, behavior, ADHD—or anything else for that matter—give us a call!

(334) 671-1280


Send us a message HERE.


*All photos are from Pexels.com

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