Solving Tomorrow’s Problems Today: Treating Behavior Problems in Children

By Joanna Love —  A cockroach crawls across my foot. A dog wets on my toys. A three-year-old bites my arm.

I love this job.

It is a privilege to serve children in the inner city Milwaukee. And I’ve found toddlers to be some of the most delightful beings on the planet.

They are funny, honest, and desperately hopeful people, just beginning to express themselves with a few words. There may be multiple meanings when a two-year-old says, “NO!”

One fairly typical day, I walk up a narrow, dangerously crooked stairway, and a sign on the door reads, “Go away if this ain’t important!” I knock loudly. Yeah, this is important.

Most young children don’t “grow out of” mental health disorders. So, treating behavior problems in young kids is the most efficient way to change that trajectory. It’s like we’re solving tomorrow’s problems today.

I enter the living room of the tiny apartment that is completely empty, except a broken table with one chair. This is no time for classic talk therapy—my client doesn’t have a couch to lie on. And she can’t talk. I sit on the floor.

I love in-home therapy. For about an hour each week, I get to live in this space with this family. I get to see, feel, smell and hear some of what this little one sees, feels, smells and hears every day.

This child does not engage normally. Her expression is blank and emotionless. Her behaviors are disorganized and repetitive. I begin to understand her story, how her mother’s severe depression has prevented her from being fully able to nurture her daughter. The little girl responds to her confusing environment with temper outbursts and aggression, by throwing her body on the floor or pulling out her hair when she becomes upset.

It’s tough to witness suffering in little children. Or to see how their mamas are working so hard with so little support, trying to make life better for their kids. Struggling to overcome poverty, discrimination, and unhealthy environments. Many parents still have wounds from their own histories of abuse or inadequate role models.

Over the next several weeks, I see a transformation in this child as her relationship with her mother improves. She now looks to her mother for comfort, and they both cuddle more, give hugs and kisses, smile at each other.

I know that change is always possible. Brains can adapt, bodies can heal, minds can be renewed.

Jesus said the kingdom of heaven belongs to little children. So every day I get to see God’s kingdom come on earth in quantifiable ways. We measure this stuff scientifically. By addressing the needs of children, we see incredible change in families. Mothers foster healthy development, absent fathers become attentive dads, kids suddenly enjoy listening to their parents.

I have become an advocate for the weakest of our human family, for those who don’t have a voice and can’t fight for their rights. Children use behaviors to communicate their needs, to share their pain and frustration, and to call attention to real problems that they need adults to fix.

We can help them.

For more information about the life-changing work being done at the Marquette University Behavior Clinic  visit the Penfield Children’s Center web site.


Joanna Love is a Licensed Professional Counselor at the Penfield Children’s Center Behavior Clinic, where she provides in-home therapy to families of young children with significant behavioral and emotional problems. She is also a Back-Up Youth and Family Advocate at Pathfinders Youth Shelter, where support and services are provided to runaway, throwaway, and homeless youth. She received her M.A. in Community Counseling from Marquette University and her B.A. in Psychology from Luther College. She plans to continue serving children and families in the community and to further her professional development in the field of mental health.

3 Responses to “Solving Tomorrow’s Problems Today: Treating Behavior Problems in Children”

  1. 1 Mary June 30, 2012 at 10:32 pm

    Thank God for the Joannas in this world. These innocent children did not ask to be born into their situations. If we provide love and support to each human being, the world will flourish.


  2. 2 Karla July 3, 2012 at 9:39 am

    What a valuable gift you are able to give. It takes a special type of person to be able to do what you do.


  3. 3 Debby July 6, 2012 at 9:44 pm

    God bless you Joanna. Your patience must have no bounds. This was a beautiful article to read.


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