How to Parent a Difficult Child

By Chris Hammond, MS, IMH

You have read the parenting books, implemented the ideas, and tried new techniques but nothing seems to work. While your other children seem to be responding and benefiting from intentional parenting, one of your children is still not thriving. In fact, they are getting worse. Maybe they have been diagnosed with ADD, ADHD, SPD, OCD, ODD, CD or Asperger’s. Such diagnoses can help to explain your child’s behavior but it does not help in understanding how to effectively parent them. So you read more books and try to be more compassionate only to find that your child’s behavior is still not improving.

All is not lost and your efforts are not in vain. For the most part you are likely to be on the right track with firm boundaries, negative consequences and positive rewards for behavior combined with a look at the heart of your child. These elements are essential to intentional parenting yet it is not enough for your child. Instead, sometimes it is the small changes that you can implement that make the biggest impact. By adding these three rules to the techniques you are already doing, you may see better results.

No questions. Questions like, “Why is your room still messy”, “Why did you do that”, and “What were you thinking” are unproductive. If your child answers these questions honestly with “I forgot”, “I don’t know”, and “I wasn’t thinking”, this is likely to frustrate you even more. Interrogating your child is almost never productive in the positive sense as it fosters rebellion in the heart of your child. While it may give you some answers, the negative consequence of a strained relationship is more damaging. Instead of questioning them, make statements like, “Your room is messy”, “Your behavior is not acceptable”, and “Think about this”. Statements rather than questions reinforce your boundaries and provide security to your child.

No explanations. Long winded explanations border on lecturing. Remember when you were a kid; did you enjoy the lectures from your parents? Didn’t you just tune them out after a period of time or talk to yourself in your head when it went on and on? So, don’t repeat the same mistake with your child. Instead be short, sweet and to the point. Long winded explanations invite opportunities for your child to argue back as they discover potential loop holes in your explanation. Keep your explanations to one or two sentence at the maximum.

No emotions. Getting angry, becoming emotional, crying, laying on a guilt trip, or nervously laughing are all inappropriate emotions during discipline. Feeling these emotions is normal and you should express them privately, but doing so in front of your child while disciplining will add to the tension of the moment. Instead deal with the moment as needed and then go back to your child later when you are no so angry, emotional, teary, guilty or laughing and explain to your child the emotion you were feeling in one or two sentences. This small change will teach your child not to react when emotional, but rather to reflect and then respond.

Small changes can make a big difference in handling a difficult child. They are likely to be more demanding, more time consuming, need more attention, and use more of your energy. But by implementing these three simple rules, you will find that you will feel less drained and more prepared to handle the next challenge that comes your way.

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"Reprinted with permission from the LifeWorks Group weekly eNews, (Copyright, 2004-2011), To subscribe to this valuable counseling and coaching resource visit www.LifeWorksGroup.org or call 407-647-7005"

About the author- Chris Hammond is a Registered Mental Health Counselor Intern at LifeWorks Group w/ over 15 years of experience as a counselor, mentor & teacher for children, teenagers & adults.

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