Maladjusted behavior in children
When we speak of maladjusted behavior, we refer to a habitual pattern of behaviors which are detrimental to the individual. Maladjusted behavior: 1) is frequent or habitual; 2) is ultimately harmful to the individual, environment, or other persons, and 3) impedes adaptation and healthy development. Individual behaviors are maladaptive only if they occur as part of a consistent pattern. All children break the rules from time to time. The maladjusted child does so consistently, much to his detriment.
It is a common characteristic of maladjusted children, that disciplinary actions are usually not effective at curtailing their negative behaviors. They continue to misbehave in spite of - perhaps because of - the threat of punishment. It seems they are unable, or unwilling, to consider the consequences of their behavior. For this reason, they require extra attention, either in the form of counseling or behavior modification.
For many people, maladjusted behavior means excessive aggression or destructiveness. But it may also include unnatural fears, excessive inhibition, and academic underachievement. Any behavior which impedes growth or is consistently detrimental, may be called 'maladjusted'. Some theorists include bad personal habits (excessive nail-biting), and problems with contingency (bed-wetting), in this category of behaviors but these are different kinds of maladjustment.
'Acting out', behaviors are fairly common in youth centers. This is behavior, usually destructive, which is directed against other persons or objects. This kind of behavior is a coping mechanism, which allows the individual to avoid pain and internal conflict by externalizing unpleasant feelings Acting out behaviors typically occur when aggression and other unacceptable urges cannot be contained. The unpleasant feelings are then discharged through such behaviors as vandalism, addiction, stealing, and acts of physical aggression.
Before we label a behavior maladjusted, we must consider it in context of where and why it is performed. The relative 'adjustability' of a behavior is contingent on several factors, including cultural norms, societal standards, and moral values. A 13 year-old boy who carries firearms and kills with almost religious fervor would be labelled maladjusted by most Americans... unless he is a soldier in the Iranian army. Foreign volunteers must give careful consideration to such cultural relativities. Is aggressive behavior maladjusted for the boy who is raised in a culture of machismo? What if the behavior is well adapted to that culture, though the behavior itself is detrimental? Perhaps the society is maladjusted. These are difficult issues. The youth worker should base her approach on what is overall best for the individual.
A concept of maladjustment also requires that negative behaviors be defined. Fighting, stealing, and substance abuse cannot be tolerated in any program. This almost goes without saying. But there are many other unacceptable behaviors which are differently defined in different programs. These include rules about school attendance, participation in program activities, personal hygiene and daily chores. These requirements need to be explained in certain terms, so that children will know when they are in violation of the rules. Maladjusted children may have trouble conforming to these expectations, because they have a behavioral problem. But normal children, too, will not comply, unless they have a clear understanding of the rules.
Rules exist in any institution, in order to ensure its smooth operation, and to promote the healthy development of individuals. They are made with the understanding that they will be broken. Rules are established precisely because negative behaviors may be expected of youths who have lived in the street and been abandoned by their families. Infractions of the rules should therefore be treated as part of a learning process.
In the interests of diminishing uncertainty and anxiety in children, the rules should be very explicit They should also be logically consistent. But while rules are always constant, responses are not. In dealing with negative behaviors, the staff of a program must consider the causes and circumstances of that behavior, and the individual character of the child. Most children respond well to a simple punishment or castigation. But maladjusted, learning disabled, and temperamental children need a more comprehensive approach to treatment. Rules are rigid; responses must be flexible.
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