Why are some kids difficult? Whether it’s hyperactivity, a creative personality, a highly sensitive nature, or possibly a defiance disorder or disability, it doesn’t really make it easier by naming it. Some children simply have a need to push boundaries. But if you can learn to weather it well, their unusual energies at youth may take them to high places as adults.
Children with difficult temperaments require extra guidance by parents – in time, attention, and understanding. Parents need to develop communication skills that work with, not against, a child’s temperament.
Here are six good tips in working with a child who exhibits difficult behaviors:
- Be honest with yourself about your child.
Your child may not be exactly who you expected them to be. Accept that your personality and theirs may not be the same. That’s okay. Love doesn’t require you to be the same. With differences there can be challenges, but there can also still be unity between you and your child. And with effective strategies and patience, your child can learn to work within acceptable boundaries
- Make sure that your child is able to predict their environment.
Be sure demands are consistent, predictable, and non-escalating. Visuals or checklists can help with this. Spontaneous or increasing demands can easily frustrate a child, so decide, prior to a problem behavior, what your response will be. For example, every time your child is escalating in a public place, the response may be, “Your behavior is showing me that you need a break. Let’s step outside and come back when you’re ready.”
- Stay Calm.
When your child gets angry or upset, keep your cool and don’t take your child’s actions personally. Work at developing attitudes, reasonable guidelines, and communication skills that work with, rather than against, your child.
You can further help your child by voicing what seems to be upsetting them. Make sure you focus on the behavior, not your child, For example, if your child is yelling in the car during a long ride, you might say, “I know you’re getting tired of sitting on this long ride; we’re going to take a break at a gas station really soon. Let’s count every red car that passes by until we get there.” This redirection may help your child refocus and stop acting out.
- Get Your Child Moving.
Physical activity can be very helpful for high-energy children. Consider outlets for energy, such as swimming lessons, Karate, dance, gymnastics, or a park outing. These activities add to your child’s life satisfaction, and can help build their self-esteem in being good at something they can control. But it is also important to make sure that you don’t overschedule activities. This can cause anxiety that can add to frustration.
- Help your child develop coping strategies.
Acknowledge what might be upsetting your child and suggest some solutions. “I can see that you are not excited to wear your jumpsuit today, but it’s cold outside. Can you find some warm pants and a sweater that you’d rather wear today?”
“I know that you had a hard time tracing your letters at school today. Let’s practice tracing letters together. Then we can share our great work with your teacher.” Taking some time for reflection at the end of each day will allow you to connect with your child, giving them that extra time with you that they desperately need to feel understood.
- Minimize stimulation.
Children often become frustrated with too many commands coming at them at once. Give your child one simple directive at a time. Provide them the choice between just two items. Give them ample time to make a choice and then help them follow through. Sometimes they may simply need to count as they take some deep breaths. Also, make sure that your home environment isn’t too loud or crazy.
Hang in there and don’t panic. Validate your child’s feelings. Make sure they know that it’s okay to feel mad, sad, or overwhelmed. Teach them to label how they are feeling and use a coping skill, such as asking for a break or removing themselves from the situation. Your child will take in the values and wisdom you’re sharing, even if they fight you every step of the way. And remember, all these strategies will help you child become the confident adult they aspire to be.