Handling Bad Behavior in a Child With Epilepsy

Medically Reviewed by Stephanie S. Gardner, MD on July 26, 2021

Here's a common scenario for the parent of a child with epilepsy: You find that your son has left their shoes in the middle of the living room floor for the umpteenth time, or that they still hasn't cleaned their room three weeks after you asked them, or that the garbage truck came and went this morning but they 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 them 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 them to behave like one. Even worse, you could be turning them into a tyrant. Children are smart. If your child sees that you're afraid of making them upset because of their condition, they 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 them 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.

WebMD Medical Reference


Solomon L. Moshe, MD. Professor of Neurology, Neuroscience and Pediatrics, Director of Clinical Neurophysiology and Child Neurology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, New York; past president of the American Epilepsy Society. William R. Turk, MD. Division Chief, Department of Pediatrics, Division of Neurology, The Nemours Children's Clinic, Jacksonville, Florida.
Freeman, J. et al. Seizures and Epilepsy in Childhood: A Guide. 2nd ed. 2002.
National Information Center for Children and Youth with Disabilities web site.
Nemours Foundation web site. Epilepsy Foundation web site.
American Epilepsy Society web site.
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke web site.
Epilepsy Foundation Entitled 2 Respect web site.
Medscape Epilepsy Resource Center web site.

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