From many years of counseling parents with difficult children, I’ve found the following wisdom helps clarify one’s priorities, improve understanding, and help take the next steps.
You are not alone. All families experience the same fears no matter what the child’s challenges: guilt, anger, frustration, failure, and mental and physical exhaustion.
There is a way. The steps to finding peace in the home are the same for all families.
You can start now. You can improve behavior without having a diagnosis, and the techniques work for the majority of difficult children.
There is reason for HOPE. They have the capacity to do better. With support and treatment, difficult children improve.
Have realistic expectations: They may not be ready for adulthood, and may need extra support into their 20’s… but that’s OK. There’s time to catch up with their peers.
Plan ahead for a crisis, brainstorm options for an effective response and create a checklist. We can’t think clearly in a tension-filled moment.
GOOD Things to do for Your CHILD or TEEN
Pay attention to STRENGTHS not weaknesses. Always find something great about them.
Guide them to their gifts. Give them ample opportunity to do what they are already good at.
GOOD Things to do for YOU
o Be your own cheerleader. Silently think, “I can handle this;” “I’m the one in control.
o Regularly talk through your feelings with others who understand and won’t judge.
o Get a life, maintain personal interests, and set thoughts of the child aside without guilt.
o Commit to doing the best you can, and own that this enough – plan to let go someday.
You’ve done a good job when they are able to take responsibility for their own care. This is a monumental personal achievement!
KEYS to CALM
In a neutral patient voice, give directions or requests . You will need to repeat yourself, calmly, several times. Your voice should not communicate strong emotions. Tone of voice, not words or volume, is what creates a bad response.
Don’t rush calm. Give the child plenty of time to unwind and settle. Calm is more important than quick.
Ensure there’s a calm place to go – a time-out space, even for you.
Get an appropriate therapy animal – a calm and durable creature unlikely to be harmed.
Reduce chaos in your home: noise, disorder, family emotional upheavals, the intrusive stimulation of an always-on TV, etc.
Ideas for MANAGING resistance
You want your child to be resistant to the negative things they’ll face in life. It represents willpower, and is a strength to cultivate.
o Be quiet and LISTEN. If you respond, address how they feel, not what they say.
o Use reverse psychology-ask them to do something you don’t want them to do, so they can defy you and do the opposite.
o Choose your battles. Let them think they’ve won on occasion.
o For an ODD child, give multiple instructions at once, including things they do and don’t want to do. It becomes too much work to sort out what to defy.
o Actively ignore – Stay in the vicinity but don’t respond, look away, act like you can’t hear. They eventually give up. Works best for ages 2 – 12.
o Mix it up – Be unpredictable. Give a reward sometimes but not all the time. Try new ways to use incentives or set boundaries and structure.
Nine COMMON Parenting MISTAKES
1. Treat your home like a democracy, let your child have an equal say in decisions.
2. Find fault with them and tell them about it repeatedly. If they do something positive, it’s not good enough.
3. Pretend your child has no reason for their behavior. Ignore his or her needs or challenges. Are they being bullied? Are they having a hard time sleeping? Is your home too chaotic?
4. Make rules and only enforce them once in a while, or have consequence come much later.
5. Don’t treat your child appropriately for his or her age. Make long explanations to a 3-year-old about your reasoning. Assume a teen wants to be just like you.
6. Expect common sense from children who are too young (5), or from young adults with a long track record of not showing common sense.
7. Keep trying the same things that still don’t work. Repeat yourself, scream, show how frustrated you are with them.
8. Jump to conclusions that demonize the child. “You are manipulative and deceitful,” “You don’t listen to me on purpose,” “I’m tired of your selfishness…”
9. Make your child responsible for your feelings. If you lose your cool, insist they apologize.
Problem SYMPTOMS, not problem children
- Does not show common sense and is not influenced by reason and logic;
- Has no instincts for self-preservation, and poor personal boundaries;
- Has no well-adjusted friends; has friends who are risky or troublesome;
- Doesn’t respond to rewards and consequences;
- Has limited character strengths: honesty, tolerance, respect for others, self-control;
- Does not make plans they can realistically achieve, hangs on to fantasies;
- Acts younger than their peers. Will not be ready for adulthood by 18;
- Lives in the here and now; doesn’t think about the past or future;
- Does not notice their effect on others.
Your PRIORITIES in Order
1. You and your primary relationship(s)
2. Basic needs and responsibilities: housing, clothing, food, income, health
3. Your challenged child or teen.