When a Parent Doesn’t Know What to Do about a Child’s Behavior

Recently, I spoke with a mom whose seven-year-old is struggling to cope with normal family life. Although this child is in the process of being tested and diagnosed, I think it is possible his symptoms place him on the autism spectrum. For example, just one of the issues this dear mom and family are fighting to cope with is managing his impulse control. If this sounds familiar to you, maybe the following suggestion will help.

Music as a brain-based intervention for struggling children

boy with autism
We often assume with children that because we are speaking, the child is listening and perceiving our words and meaning. (image courtesy of

Parents who must cope with a struggling child find it very difficult to know what to do. Some try to force the child to change through punishment or disciplinary techniques. Some just scream in rage or frustration. Some reach to therapists and parenting educators for help. And even after all of that, progress can be minimal. Why? Different brain responses can require different approaches.

What can cause unpredictable or unresponsive sets of behaviors in children? There may be few answers because each individual (and each individual’s brain) is unique. But in this instance, in essence, we are dealing with brain perceptions that may not respond to many of the more cognitive techniques known to help modify behavior.

We often assume that because we are speaking to a child, the child is listening and perceiving our words and meaning.

Because of our assumption, we expect the child to respond accordingly. Yet, he or she may not respond as we would predict or desire. It seems a child hears selectively, which can almost feel manipulative.

As I sat with this persevering, diligent and caring mom, I heard her sense of despair, her love for her child and her frustration at not having meaningful support or a workable strategy.

“What should I do?” is the constant, daily, even hourly challenge.

This is not an easy question for any caregiver. Even professionals can sometimes feel at a loss.

While some strategies or drugs, appropriately administered, can be helpful, we know neuroscientifically that this type of brain-based response or brain disequilibrium portends a bigger issue.

We are still learning about the brain functions of children with autistic or autistic-type behaviors. New neuroscience information emerges steadily and has presented a set of ideas and understanding that I think will be helpful.

We used music as a tool to help this boy focus in the morning.

A music-therapy friend of mine developed music that featured a certain beat. I asked this mom to play this music every morning for her son. As she did, she watched her son’s behavior improve. He became a bit more manageable.

One morning she forgot to turn the music on. Missing it, he asked that she turn on the music because it helped him. In other words, he was saying, “I need this in order to think clearly and function.”

First, we need to understand that brain disequilibrium is a real issue. Once we understand this reality, we can start to create environments where children and teenagers can move toward calm and cognitive thinking. That is, we may consider an approach that is environmental and brain-based.

Imagine if we were to be able to diagnose what a child needs with brain-based, environment sensitivity?

We could propose both interventions to promote change in our homes, schools and communities, to meet the needs of these special children. How amazing it would be to recognize that without the use of drugs, extensive strategies and huge demands on caregivers we could help children struggling with these types of issues.

It may be a significant answer to many struggles and behavioral questions. Like this seven-year-old, other children may be able to ask for the help needed. It could result in these children discovering the tools that help them move from anxiety to calm and success.

I have more to say on this topic and will spend some time in the next few posts to think about this more broadly.

Gerry Vassar, President/CEO, Lakeside Educational Network

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