I regularly talk with parents with children with a brain disorder and a history of serious behavior problems. Sometimes I meet a parent who is truly at the end of their rope and has to talk to someone. The parent is exasperated by their child’s relentless acting out, and utterly exhausted by trying to contain their behaviors.
They plead for answers: “Why does he keep doing this?, or, ” Why doesn’t she stop after I’ve explained things over and over.” Then they answer their own questions: “It’s because he always wants his way,” or, “She’s doing this to get back at me.”
The parent then lists all the ways they’ve tried reasoning with their child, and/or disciplining with consequences. As they tell their story, they continue to ask questions and provide answers, going around and around and around: “He does this just to make me mad;” “She manipulates the situation because she wants more (something) and I won’t give it to her.” What’s interesting to me is that these children can be quite young (4 or 5), too young to expect reasoning in the first place, or they can be young adults (early 20′s) who have a long track record of doing things that don’t make sense.
If saying something a 1000 times hasn’t worked, why would 1001 times?
A lot of parents’ stress and frustration can quickly vanish the moment they realize and accept that their child is not ready to consistently reason nor consistently control their behaviors. They are irrational, but it’s not their fault or the parent’s fault. Irrationality is the hallmark of brain-based problems, and chronically challenging behaviors are the evidence. If you feel you have run into brick walls over and over again, and your child is not learning what you’re teaching, do both of yourselves a favor and stop trying the same things that still don’t work. Stop assuming that if you say something a thousand times they’ll finally get it, and stop the paranoid assumptions that your child or teen has some evil plan to get back at you.
When you find yourself trying to reason with the unreasoning, step back and calm yourself, and ask what your child needs in the moment. Then change your whole approach. Try different ways of communicating, such as softening your tone of voice. Pay attention to whether they respond best to words or images, and use what works most naturally for them. Try using touch to communicate, or withdrawing touch if that’s threatening to them. Post polite signs in the house as reminders for things they need remember every day. Show your child or teen how to do something instead of telling them how. Avoid explaining how their behavior will hurt them in the future. Children and teens often cannot track how pushing one domino leads to all the dominos falling.
If you’ve nagged and harped and chided your child, forgive yourself. It’s normal. You are still a good parent who wants the best for your son or daughter. Over the many years I’ve facilitated parent support groups, I’ve heard so many regret how they’ve treated their child once they begin to understand that it won’t work. You are not alone. Raising a child like yours is tough, but you’ll move on and figure things out. Keep trying.