Let’s talk about “difficult” children; first let me be clear this article like many articles, is simply for reference as no child is identical to another. This is not a simple topic to address, in fact there is no manual, no parenting book, no specific advise from other parents or even our own experience with another one of our children, will not help us to magically get it right. All of those things can help us develop our mental strength, maturity, point of reference about children’s behavior; ultimately it all comes down to your own gut, your intuition and how much do you really know your child or better yet how much does your child know the real you. As we dive into this subject, let’s keep an open mind and an open heart, these two are essential when trying to reach a “difficult” child.
Although this article is meant to help parents of “difficult” children, some of the guidelines written here can be applied with pretty much everyone; it is important however to distinguish the difference between a child who has no ability to fully understand his/her own emotions vs a young adult or adults in general. We need to be mindful of not using some of these guidelines on people who may actually need you to be more self assertive instead of enabling “bad” behavior.
Difficult children often generate a high level of stress in parents to the point of leaving them feeling helpless, defenseless, or maybe even useless. These emotions can be very hard on anyone who is experiencing them and hard to stop when one is often left feeling energy depleted. It’s not easy at all, but the most important part is to stop blaming yourself; blame doesn’t help anyone. There may be things you need to improve on yourself as a parent, this doesn’t mean you have to castigate yourself time and time again…NO PARENT GETS IT RIGHT EVERY TIME…
It doesn’t help to compare yourself with anyone, you are unique and so is your child! It is imperative you understand this, for your “difficult” child needs YOUR acceptance more than anyone else’s . Your child is unique, special, not a copy of anyone else and so are you. How children ultimately turn out as adults is not just the result of their parent’s actions or inactions; friends, teachers, religious leaders, and society in general have a huge role to play–ultimately it comes down to the child’s own spirit and where in the scale of soul development he finds himself.
Most of the time “difficult” children are prisoners of their inner palaces; locked tight in inner spaces unable to find the door through which to express their locked emotion. The blocked emotion is a thorn surrounded by stone walls; if we push children to suppress more of their emotions, we are raising more walls. If we raise more walls then the thorn/pain will become more difficult to find/identify. The first thing we need to do is to remove each stone from the wall through communication and affection. Here is a simple example of how easily as parents we tend to miss our chance to build a solid foundation of communication between us and our children : Your child has had a bad day at school, upon arriving home you ask your child how his day went to which he replies rudely and with vague answers. Upon hearing your child’s tone of voice you feel offended, disrespected, not valued and so on, therefore you choose to send your child to his room for the rest of the afternoon to think his disrespectful attitude. Keep in mind your child is not a young adult (in which case the rules vary quite a bit, young adults are at a stage in their development where destructive, disrespectful words/action cannot be tolerated in the same way one would a child. To try to treat a young adult with the same attitude as one would a child might actually cause more damage than help the situation). As per the above example, punishing the child without trying to remove the walls built around the pain is of no help whatsoever. If anything we would be teaching the child to hide, to see the world as unfair and to distrust his surroundings.
If your child is being difficult and puts up walls, do not raise new citadels around him, do not isolate him, do not neglect him, do not leave him alone without having tried to help him by taking the time to gently discover what is the root of his pain. The process to reach a “difficult” child or any child in pain is complex, however it helps to take into account the following:
- There are children with high demands whose personality may demand more than the average child; its their personality, their way of being, it does not mean we as parents have necessarily done something wrong.
- A “difficult” child is not always the result of poor parenting; take responsibility for your part in things, do not blame yourself nor allow others to make you feel guilty or less than anyone else because your child is acting “difficult”.
- A child who acts demanding and does not receive what he seeks, or does not know how to express his emotions ends up feeling bottled up and frustrated.
- “Difficult” children are often overwhelmed by a number or emotions which can be hard for them to identify: Anger that oscillates with sadness, boredom, just plain anger, etc.
- “Difficult” children require a higher level of attention, understanding, support and even creativity from their parents.
In order to help “difficult” children we need to teach them to find a way to express their suppressed emotions…
If we keep reproaching a “difficult” child for his mistakes, if we underestimate him or keep reprimanding him for his reactions, we will generate even more anger and more anxiety. Keep in mind these children are fragile and have a low self esteem. Try to use verbalizations such as “I trust you”, ” I know you are a brave child”, “I know you are going to be capable of doing this” (it is important to phrase it this way instead of “you are capable” which may come across as demanding. The child may instead feel you are saying “why aren’t you capable?”...How we phrase things is extremely important when it comes to children. “I love you” instead of “You did a great job…that is why I love you”. Positive words generate positive emotions and positive emotions generate trust. This is all part of positive reinforcement.
There are parents who make the mistake of comparing their “difficult” child with other children; this can be extremely damaging. There is a difference between using an experience someone may have gone through as an example vs leaving the child feeling less than someone else.
- Try not to start your dialogue with sentences that are condemning such as “You never listen” “You are always lazy”. There are no such things as always and never, so let’s start by taking these words out of our vocabulary, specially when dealing with children.
- Try not to come across judgmental, ask questions but don’t interrogate.
- Find out when your child is most comfortable to talk.
- Give him closeness and try to be understanding.
- Be aware of your tone of voice; this is essential when connecting with children. Communication must be something you and your child practice daily and continuously.
- Never laugh at or belittle your child for what he is expressing. Keep in mind that what may not seem like a big deal to you, to your child it’s important. If you show no empathy he will avoid you and grow up to show you the same lack of empathy.
- Teach your child that every emotion can be transformed into a word.
- Teach him that anger has form or that by sharing one’s sadness one can be relieved from it.
- Teach him that crying is not bad (as long as is valid and not as a manipulative technique. Teach him the difference between the two).
- Reassure him that you will always try your best to listen to every word.
- Teach him to breathe, to relax, to channel his emotions (maybe using certain activities in order for the child to vent).
- Teach him that frustration at times is natural as the world won’t always respond the way the child expects to.
- Teach him to listen and to speak assertively. Tell him that his voice will always be heard, that his word matters, that he is important.
- Teach him to have responsibilities, to take care of himself and to understand that every action has a consequence.
As parents we are architects of our children’s worlds. We are not perfect, we are wounded as our parents and their parents before them were wounded. For the most part, most parents try to do the best they can with what they have been taught or have experienced themselves. It is imperative we tap into our own wounds to better understand the pain and the wounds we may cause in our own children by our actions or inactions. It is also imperative for parents to learn the difference between protecting vs overprotecting a child. It helps to understand your child is another human soul, not perfect, no better and no less than others. Children were not born with knowledge of differences such as race or religion. As parents we need to focus more on the development of our children’s own potential first as souls, then their gifts, instead of focusing on how to make our children better than someone else’s child. Your child is special simply because he is, he doesn’t need to beat someone else, he doesn’t need to be perfect or to pretend to be perfect, neither does he need to learn to condemn anyone. Children when left without judgmental influences are the greatest example of what pure souls are.
Instead of talking to your child about empathy, how about you show your child how to be kind and understanding; not only when things are going his way but specially when they are not. Teach children that true charity starts at home, that before showing kindness to strangers they need to be kind, forgiving and understanding of themselves and those closest to them (mom, dad, siblings). That is how we as parents create safe worlds where a child feels safe enough to express not only the positive but also the negative emotions in a constructive manner. If we try to refrain our children from every painful experience, if we overprotect them, our children will grow knowing of love and empathy but they won’t be able to understand or to give it because they themselves don’t know what those emotions feel like. They won’t know the core of their emotions for they were not allow to get in touch with them.
It is important for our kids to develop their abilities. It is important they have a good education while keeping in mind that nothing beats emotional intelligence. If we fail to do this, we are simply going to raise a generation of mechanical human beings who can recite what they have been taught but have no ability to feel, to understand or to forgive others. Their concepts of these things will only go as far as their notebook knowledge of them.
Emotional intelligence is not a trait, it is a skill. Some children are old souls born with a higher ability to naturally tap into their core emotions but others need to be taught how to. As parents it is our responsibility and an honor to be able to pass these teachings to our children not by words alone but by actions. There is not better time to teach a lesson to your child about human kindness and true forgiveness than when things aren’t going their way. Just be careful– Teach them forgiveness with self expression not with self repression (the repression of their emotions/pretending they are okay when they are not). Teach them how to express their emotions appropriately and without punishing others simply because things did not go the way they expect them to unfold.
“Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all”