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Parenting A Difficult Child

Posted by Patience on July 10, 2009 at 2:28 PM in Raising BoysRaising Girls
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museum kid3

Chances are the kid that makes you the most crazy will turn out to be the president of the United States, or at least this is what I keep telling myself. Spirited children are challenging, smart, funny, strong, tender and well sometimes, hard.

Here's what I've learned so far after many mistakes and triumphs:

Everybody knows but you. Well meaning friends always know what you should do to help the struggles you have with hard kids. Sometimes they are right and have a perspective you can't see because you are so "in it." Other times, not so much. It's okay to blow off or spend less time with the expert parents, grandparents, friends every now and then.

You are tired. This is an understatement. Parenting is hard and parenting harder kids is exhausting. I would even venture to say you need more breaks and time away than the average to be the parent you want and need to be to this child. Take the time, ask even if it feels hard to, you'll be glad you did.

The world expects children to be little adults. We are only 50 years from the "children should be seen and not heard" way of thinking. Our society is often unaware of behaviour that is purely developmental. The expectations are high and we often set our kids up for failure. Read up on your kid's development, it might help.

The great push. The truth is, these kids push us to be better parents. We have to aquire skills to make it work and to meet their needs. They can teach us loads about ourselves if we hang in there and keep trying.

So the comment section is open to your thoughts on extreme parenting, vent, send us tips, tell us your stories. Or at least weigh in telling us you are in the same boat, we'll throw you a life vest.


anne writes...

All I want to say is I Love The Picture!!!

PatienceAuthor Profile Page writes...

isn't it hilarious?!! so her, so awesome...

jen lemen writes...

i have a kid like this, pache, and i can tell you (like an annoying big sister) that the gifts they give you far outweigh the headaches. only your "difficult" child can help you see all the places where you can stretch, play, let go and discover the spots where your own parenting needed a do-over. hang in there. you're rocking it.

Alice writes...

I love difficult children, at least other people's difficult children. Having had a salesperson once suggest to me that our "spirited" daughter should be put on prozac (we didn't buy anything there) I can totally relate to your first point.
Also, the area in which we currently live seems to be a hub of the "children should act like adults" school of thought.
I just keep telling myself that spirited is good and will serve them well in the future. It also makes for great stories. ;-)

Gina writes...

Well timed post. We "woke up" (is that still what you call it when you don't really sleep?) this morning with a difficult-child hangover. I am tired. I am so tired, and I'm even more tired of the endless chatter in my head wondering what I'm doing wrong, why I can't seem to make this child happy, when the drama will end and the fun begin. I have no answers.... but I do appreciate the company.

We all need a nap.

Amber writes...

I hear you on the everybody knows but you. I remember telling an older relative that I had a really hard time taking my spirited toddler to the grocery store. The relative suggested I bring a snack with me. I had totally tried that, thanks, so NOT working.

I agree, though, this spirit is going to pay off in the long run. That's what I tell myself, anyway. This kid of mine is going to climb mountains and do great things. I just pray my sanity survives so that I can enjoy it. ;)

Iris writes...

I really needed to read this post today. Gina I am with you...I am tired. I'm a mother of four under the age of five and my "spirited" one is the oldest. I spend much time in the day trying to figure this kid out (no luck just yet). One day I will look back and understand! Thanks for letting me know that I am not alone!!!

Jennifer writes...

I repeatedly have to tell myself, "She's only three," and sometimes, she just has to act her age! ;-) My daughter is fantastic: smart, caring, full of laughs; and occasionally defiant. "She's only three." Knowing what's normal and taking the professionals' opinions into account (i.e. what her pre-school teachers think) helps me a lot with perspective. Now, if only I could figure out a way to deal with the toothbrushing rebellion... ;-)

Jess writes...

Another tired and challenged mama here! One of the things I keep telling myself lately is how important it is to be mindful of how I tell my child's story, both to myself and to/around him. Do I want to create a legacy for him of being considered "difficult"? Can I find ways to retell the story that make it easier to find the joy and shake off the frustrations?

Your last point has so much wisdom in it. These children push us to be better people. In finding the best way to nurture them, we nurture ourselves, too.

Rachel writes...

Part of the issue I find especially working in retail is that parents are also afraid to discipline their children in public. Case in point one day I was in the restroom and there was a mom with a little boy in the handicapped stall who was having a screaming tantrum. She was in there giving him a stern talking to and trying to let him calm down. There was no evidence whatsoever of physical violence on the parents part. Just a screaming child. Another lady in there told this mother that she was going to call DHS on her because she didn't like the way she was offering up the discipline. I was dumbfounded. I didn't know what to say and just looked at her like she was nuts. It certainly makes me rethink how I handle public tantrums with my daughter. So far I'm lucky. They don't happen often.

Shannon writes...

I have a spirited boy and love Dr. John Breeding's work - Wildest Colts make the Best Horses.

Dr. Becky Bailey's Conscious Discipline is also tremendous.

Thom Hartman's The Edison Gene is also great.

Omega fish oils, cutting down on processed foods/chemicals/sugars, and spending more time outdoors for these kids is also great. Activities like martial arts and gymnastics is also fantastic.

As Thomas Hartman says - these kinds of kids are 'hunters' in a society of 'farmers.' They are challenging but bring us great gifts - these are the creators, inventors, the ones who will be thinking outside the box.

Get backup, breaks, but tune out the neighbors. As long as no one is causing injury - try to 'see your child through the eyes of delight' as John Breeding would say.

Sharon writes...

I found the book The Explosive Child very helpful.

Pam writes...

I've been reading Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn. It's helped to view things from my child's point of view. As the site notes, it's "paradigm-shattering book."

Linda writes...

We have two boys, ages 5 and almost 3. Our oldest is our challenge. From the time he was born, he was a challenge; troubles nursing, wouldn't sleep unless held, etc. Then the developmental delays began--speech delays, then a diagnosed speech issue; drooling continued after teething ended; and the behavioral issues. We've taken him for evaluations--possible mental retardation (no way, this kid is smart, but different), possible neurological issues (nope, CT scan perfect). In the end, I don't care what labels the "professionals" want to throw at him, especially if there is no "solution" realized because of the label. He's mine and he's just the way he is supposed to be. He's a discipline challenge, and uncovered one thing I didn't know about myself before--I'm not the most patient person in the world. I've become more so. So has he. I'm tired when I wake up, exhausted when I go to bed. The old adage "You get out of it what you put into it" pushes me on; my relationship with my son will be stronger and deeper because I had to put more into it. In the end, it's part of the bargain, but I'd really love a day off...maybe in about 10 years I'll get one.

Jay writes...

I am the parent of child who many (family, friends) consider a "difficult" child. Everything that makes her difficult makes her so unique AND, I wish I could be more like her in so many ways. She is so outgoing, so friendly, so caring, and I can't stand the thought of her any other way. Do I need a break from parenting from time to time? YES! I believe most parents do. It makes me a better parent when I take an occasional break. And what does she want to be when she grows up? An artist-astronaut-chef-president, of course.

Michelle writes...

I am a twenty seven year old mother of one...I am raising a spirited 10 month old! She never complains or cries but man is she busy. She flies through developmental milestones with no problem and gbbing up a storm. She needs half the sleep of her peers, which means mommy and daddy get half the sleep of their peers ;0). My mom says I was a very spirited child and she had read every book on the matter. She knew one day I would be a high energy adult running circles around everyone else. She was right, I have a very successful life and family. Oh and a very beautiful intelligent daughter!

Lois writes...

I am the mother of four grown children that are 6 years from the oldest to the youngest. My second, the oldest girl, was the challenging one; absolutely dominated every aspect of our family life, drove everybody nuts. But she is 25 now, and a delightful person. Still strong willed, but is indeed a mover and a shaker.

Note the theme of everyone's comments: "I'm so tired." Boy, can I relate to that! The best thing you can do for everyone concerned is to find a way to take a nap. It helps you think more clearly and keep things in perspective.

So a word of encouragement to all of you who are walking the path where I have already trod: Hang in there. You'll make it and be proud of your child. It is truly worth the struggle in the end.

Lois writes...

I am the mother of four grown children that are 6 years from the oldest to the youngest. My second, the oldest girl, was the challenging one; absolutely dominated every aspect of our family life, drove everybody nuts. But she is 25 now, and a delightful person. Still strong willed, but is indeed a mover and a shaker.

Note the theme of everyone's comments: "I'm so tired." Boy, can I relate to that! The best thing you can do for everyone concerned is to find a way to take a nap. It helps you think more clearly and keep things in perspective.

So a word of encouragement to all of you who are walking the path where I have already trod: Hang in there. You'll make it and be proud of your child. It is truly worth the struggle in the end.

Penny writes...

We have a spirited boy - age 7. Last year we discovered Sensory Processing Disorder and through that learned how to understand him and be better more patient parents. Love to hear from parents of other spirited children!

Donna writes...

Having been the 'difficult child' in the family, I think I understand more then some. That and being a horse trainer! Always remember, a tired child is a good child. I have found that they operate by the same principles as horses, and dogs incidently... You have to find the energy to out last them, then it is a cake walk! Just like the Dog Whisperer (Cesar Millan) says “We have to use exercise, discipline and affection every day. Most of the time people share affection, affection, affection, and that creates frustration."

Tammy writes...

I have recently started a support group on facebook for high spirited children. Please feel free to join. It's new, so there aren't a lot of moms there yet, but I know there will be soon. So, please feel free to come by, join and start a discussion and exchange ideas with other parents in the same situation! Here is the link:

Or go to facebook and search groups for: High Need Child

I know having support with others that share what I'm going through is very helpful!

Rene' writes...

My 9 yo DD is our 'saint' child. Our 4 yo DS is our spirited child. His is not a phase... I knew from day 1 that he was different and going to be a challenge. He never slept, he cried nonstop, even as a 1 yr old he couldn't deal with change (going from store to carseat or vice versa caused a complete meltdown).

One challenge I find is the tendency for relatives and friends to gravitate towards our DD, because they just can't deal with the explosivity and constant drama that our son causes. It's beginning to affect his self-esteem and causes him to act depressed, which makes him act up even more.

Another challenge is that our No Child Left Behind preschool program won't help him, bc they require kids to fail TWO metrics, and since his hearing, sight and speech are fine, they won't admit him! He has been asked to leave 2 daycares and 2 private preschools bc no one knows how to handle him. So he's not getting any help at all, and will end up next year in Kindy even farther behind the other kids, and back in the public school's hands anyway. They REALLY need to reconsider this requirement for NCLB-funded programs (BTW, delayed Speech is an auto-in... why are behavioral probs LESS important than a lisp, in the educational career of a child?!).

Jess writes...

Penny, learning about sensory processing differences is indeed a lifesaver! Whether or not a particular child actually has SPD, just reading about sensory needs can help to raise awareness of how some frustrating behaviors might actually be your child's unique way of perceiving and handling the world.

This sensory checklist led me to many "a-ha" moments about both my son and myself, realizations that have led to much less struggle for all five of us in our family.

Pilar writes...

What good timing for me to read this today-- and all of the comments that followed. My husband and I both are so exhausted! But I would say that noticing and nurturing our son's gifts is what pulls us through, and keep us going. He is an amazing child and it heartens me to keep in mind that this will all be worth it, that he will likely grow to contribute something special to the world. Still, I can't help but wonder, through the screaming, what is it he's trying to tell us? Learning the language is half the battle! I'm looking forward to reading up on some of the links others have provided. Thanks for this post!

Adele writes...

Everyone writes such glowing comments about their parenting experiences - I do love being a mother but I am a widow and parenting a "difficult" child is beyond exhausting. My son can be incredibly lovable but he is also very loud, undisciplined, extremely hyperactive and sometimes simply over-exuberantly hugging and jumping and climbing onto other humans. Consequently - he is almost NEVER invited over and in classes and programs he is NEVER called on - often met with "we only call on those children who are sitting quietly and raising their hands." Not going to happen - why can't an excitable child be called on or allowed to participate in public activities? I just don't understand!!!

Susan writes...

I have 3 boys and they are all spirited, active, boisterous and generally run me ragged. When I had my first son he was a fairly cranky baby. He was upset about pretty much everything and as a new Mom I was completely overwhelmed. He was late to potty train, had some speech delays, behavioral issues and later was diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder. Getting speech therapy made a huge difference. He also was in the Special Needs Preschool Program in our local school system and that was an absolutely wonderful program. From 3-6 years old he learned and changed a lot and no longer has any diagnoses. While he can still be a handful sometimes he is the sweetest, affectionate, resourceful, creative and imaginative kid. I still worry about school sometimes- that he won't have a teacher that knows how to channel all of that energy but I don't worry about him near as much now as I used to.

For all others out there dealing with spirited children, this is what worked for us:
1) keep them busy
2) make sure they eat healthy- very few processed foods
3) give them schedule/routine/structure with independence/choices built in
4) make sure they get enough sleep
5) encourage and nurture their imagination & creativity and accept their quirks
6) be their advocate- you know your kid the better than anybody else. Follow your instincts- if you suspect something might be wrong, look into it and conversely if everyone is trying to label your kid and you just don't agree then listen to yourself.

Lara writes...

Just read a wonderful, hopeful, inspiring book called "The Explosive Child". Good read and advise if your kid loses it easily. This tired mom has found it helpful. I, too, worry about the stigma of my kid being "difficult", "odd", "different" and having to cope in a world that expects us to all conform to fashion (figurative not literal) of one sort or another.

Julie writes...

We are the parents of 2 daughters. We thought we had "the parenting thing" down pat. Then, we had a son.

En utero, I referred to him as "the fish" (and after the u/s as "fish boy") because of the way he constantly flopped around. Nothing changed after he was born except that he had a much larger area. I'm only sort of joking when I say our son run at 120 MPH for 18 hours a day. Any sort of retail experience is challenging to say the least. He's been asked to leave 1 daycare because he didn't "conform to their program." Who wants a kid who conforms?

Our son is beautiful, smart, with a memory so good it's scary, and a quick wit (at 3, we don't have to explain the jokes we make with our high-schooler and 5th-grader) that makes him someone with whom it's a joy to converse. His imagination is unparalleled and has impressed preschool teachers and other parents (a bit of confirmation never hurts).

We are better parents because of our high-energy boy. We are better people. Tired, but better. We had to relearn EVERYTHING and top it with a huge dollop of patience. And we take long parents-only weekends once or twice a year. I still don't get a full night of sleep most nights but when that sweet boy climbs in my bed and shoves me into a section of my mattress which feels postage stamp size, I know I get the best hugs and kisses in the morning.

I don't have any answers. I am often tired and have more than my share of frustration - but I have a child who has taught me and amazes me and makes me laugh every single day.

Micha writes...

I am so tired. I get it. Parenting a difficult child in it's simplest form is DIFFICULT.I've taken parenting class after parenting class to get suggestions and ideas but when will it pay off? I'm glad there's other people out there that have a tough time, too.

Beth writes...

I run a daycare and I have one child I think about letting go on a daily basis. About once a month I have a little private break down because I feel like I shouldn't have to deal with his behaviour; behavior that detracts from the time I spend with my own children. But having read your posts I realize how much more difficult I would make it for his parents if I were to let him go. And how I am labeling him. Thank you for letting me see things from your perspectives-- I just need to find new ways to work with this one. I will definately be picking up the reading material suggested.

Wandermom writes...

I owe my sanity to Stanley Tureki's book "The Difficult Child"


Carrie writes...

I would have to say that I have only made it through this tough time with the grace and strength that God has given to me through daily prayer and by the wonderful family and friends He has put into my life. I am also a single mom and it is sooooo hard! Spirited children can be tamed if you access the best resources. When my daughter is having a break-down, we pray together...and it really helps. Of course, I have an arsenal of books and research behind me to draw from to learn to apply new techniques that aren't of the spiritual nature. Hang in there!

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