How should we raise our spirited children, our children that we know present a greater challenge to our parenting skills?
We all love our children, we want the “best” for them. We imagine happy, fulfilling lives with minimal conflict as necessary. That sounds nice, right? I have an easy answer on how to raise your difficult child, and then a complicated one.
The easy answer:
I don’t know. I have no idea, homeslices. I could never know your children as well as you do.
The complicated answer:
There are some questions we can ask of ourselves and about our children that might help us make better decisions in our own homes. And this is where I think the parenting conversation needs to lead—the asking of questions. As I stated in my “Sometimes, Parenting Articles Are Wack” article, the certainty with which people speak about how to raise your child is a falsehood.
I am not saying we don’t have clues. I am saying there are a ton of variables. Some things work with some children, and not with others. But I have learned in my training, career and life that sometimes asking the right questions is the most important thing.
What is a “difficult child”?
I think we must be aware that what we call a “difficult child” is often that which causes us stress and creates chaos. We have to name it to focus our solutions. So, truly in a vacuum there might not be any such thing as a difficult child. But we don’t live in vacuums, do we? Our assessment is always relative to our situation. Some children are extremely difficult to deal with and say … function in one’s job and/or relationships. Children are important to our lives, but not the only part of our lives, right?
Children with severe autism, bright children, energetic physical children, emotional children, the list goes on. Some children will refuse to do what we ask them to. Some children are “getting into something every second” it seems. Some children are incapable of understanding what we ask them to do. Some children have severe emotional volatility.
We have to avoid fantasy land platitudes like “there is no such thing as a difficult child.” Sure there is.
Why is this particular child difficult for us to raise?
I can tell you that we have a highly energetic, bright child. Her body is in near constant motion from sunrise to sunset, and she is always processing at light speed it seems. But why is this difficult for us? It is because we just suck and see our child as a nuisance, right?
Nah. We LOVE our child. We think she is truly amazing. We marvel at her very existence, her soul, her creativity, her intelligence. Sometimes we look at her and are rendered speechless by how wonderful she is.
This does not change the fact that we have things to do. Yes, we both work. That is our reality for the foreseeable future. You know all the pressure being put on educators you hear about in the news? That is our daily reality. Further, I do other things outside of my main job. Most people have to in these times. Most people do not work one job, that they stay at for 30 years now. I bet your job has a lot of pressure, too.
But it isn’t just work. Some kids are simply overwhelming. My friend has three children at home, two of whom are individuals on the Autism Spectrum. One of her sons is so volatile, it takes every ounce of her energy to just deal with him. She loves him dearly. It is still difficult to raise him. And no, she cannot just let the kicking and hitting work itself out. That is not a realistic expectation for someone to have of her situation. By the way, if I’m comparing—her situation is tougher than mine. That does not render our situation “not tough at all.” We all have relative levels of constraint and stress.
But it isn’t just the child and the situation. Are we particularly high strung? Why? What do we fear? Do we need some help in dealing with that? The issues and controls are internal as well as external.
Are we giving our children the attention that they need? Are they getting our time? Have they gone through something traumatic? Are we talking to them and really listening?
What do we do?
We can ask each other what works, without going all Judgy McJudgerstein on folks. We need more giving, caring networks of friends of various backgrounds than we need more authoritative experts.
Here is an example of how I might speak in a group of parents that is discussing difficulty in maintaining a peaceful home and balancing everything without trying to one-up each other as PARENT OF THE YEAR:
“When our daughter gets really rambunctious, I try to take a break from working and tell her I will play with her for a certain amount of time. I do so many things, and have so much on my mind, I am trying to work on not feeling or being distracted while I do that. If the weather is okay, one of us will try to take her out of the house to move/do something she likes. That gives the other some time to work. We try to do stuff as a family, too. But we can’t always make that happen, so we do the best we can. It is still hard to give her attention and get everything done, though. What have you tried?”
The other day, something I have been playing with for months worked with our daughter. She had a meltdown. I have been working on taking her away from the situation and breathing with her. It was an abject failure for months. I stuck with it. Two weeks ago, I finally got her to breathe with me. Just five deep breaths with her in my lap. The other night, through her tears she asked me, “Daddy, can I breathe with you?” It was like magic. Are we “good” now? No, but this is one more thing in our shared toolbox for managing our emotions.
Also, we just moved out of the only house she likely remembers consciously. AND she has a baby sister on the way. That is truly a lot to deal with for someone so young. So, we talk about it. We ask her how she feels without admonishing her that she shouldn’t feel. Yet we still refuse to accept being mean or trying to hurt others. We do not accept refusal to do the things we must do to cooperate as a family and live life.
See that? That is an exchange of information. I am telling you what I do, not what you should do. Maybe you can take some ideas from that. Maybe you cannot.
Once we start talking TO each other, we realize that our kid is not the only super energetic, rambunctious kid. We also see that a variety of parenting approaches can result in healthy, loving, capable kids. We can trade little ideas about how to not only manage our lives together with our kids, but also how to manage ourselves. It still might be tough. But we manage better together than isolated.
Originally appeared at The Neighborhood Neuroscientist. Reprinted with permission.
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