Handling Bad Behavior in a Child With Epilepsy

Worried mother holds her daughters hand while she lays in recovery after a operation
Here’s a common scenario for the parent of a child with epilepsy: You find that your son has left his shoes in the middle of the living room floor for the umpteenth time, or that he still hasn’t cleaned his room three weeks after you asked him, or that the garbage truck came and went this morning but he never dragged the cans to the curb.

So you decide it’s time for a talk. But as you approach your son to lay down the law, you stop short. What if my yelling at him causes a seizure?

This is a common and understandable fear, but perhaps not a rational one. Most of the time, children with epilepsy aren’t as fragile as you think.

Equal Treatment for Kids With Epilepsy

Remember, children with epilepsy should be treated just like any other child whenever possible. Just as kids with epilepsy can go to school, play sports, and go on dates, they can also get yelled at by their parents when they step out of line. You shouldn’t let epilepsy excuse bad grades, and you shouldn’t let it excuse bad behavior.

As any doctor or parenting book will tell you, kids need discipline. Treating your kid like an invalid is a surefire way of getting him to behave like one. Even worse, you could be turning him into a tyrant. Children are smart. If your child sees that you’re afraid of making him upset because of his condition, he may take advantage.

Going easy on one child with epilepsy can also build resentment among your other children. They may already feel that the child with epilepsy gets more attention than they do. If they see their sibling getting away with unacceptable behavior, they’re going to get angrier.

Remember, a spoiled, self-centered child won’t be popular on the playground. Overindulgence on your part could impair your child’s social skills.

Special Circumstances for Kids With Epilepsy

Of course, you have to make decisions about discipline based on the specific case. If your child’s seizures are completely uncontrolled, you may need to adjust your usual discipline to some extent. In addition, some children who have epilepsy also have developmental or learning problems that can make disciplining him more challenging.

Keep in mind that your child’s bad behavior may be related to side effects from epilepsy medicines. Some medicines could make your child hyperactive, exhausted, or forgetful.

Whatever the reason, don’t settle and accept the situation. If your child’s seizures are uncontrolled, or if you think medications are causing problems, talk to your doctor. Allowing the problems to persist — while you live in fear of upsetting your child and provoking a seizure — isn’t healthy for anyone. A lack of discipline will make behavior worse—and discipline, itself, will not worsen epilepsy.