Parenting the Difficult Child

The following article is from Michael Grose.  Check out his latest book: Why First Borns Rule the World and Last Borns Want to Change It.

“I hadn’t been to one in years – a kids’ birthday party, that is . Recently, I was invited by a relative to a 1st birthday party of her daughter, where I got a first hand lesson in some great parenting.  The birthday girl’s mom organized party games, catering for toddlers through early primary school kids.

“The kids were great.  The older children gave way to the younger kids, who weren’t exactly into sharing.  They were mindful that the younger ones needed some leeway.  Well, all except for one very lively four year old, who just about needed a rope and tether to hold him back.  He took charge and wanted to boss the other kids around….

“BUT his mother was brilliant!  She stood by him as he played, patiently reminding him to “wait your turn”, “talk nicely, share”, “put that back”, “think of others”…  You get the picture.

“This mom had THE difficult child.  She had the child that every parent was thanking their lucky stars they didn’t have.  Her son was lovely, but lively…a very high maintenance child.  I could sense that this mom was embarrassed by her son’s behavior.  That somehow people were equating her son’s boisterous and at times, overbearing behavior with poor parenting.  BUT there was nothing further from the truth.

“This mom worked hard at the party to make sure her son developed a sense of “others”.  She constantly reminded him that he didn’t live in a bubble and that his behavior impacted others.  The other parents may have been watching on, but this mom was definitely hands on!  She was persistent, repeating her core messages, using different words in different situations. She had a job on her hands!

“Parenting is easy…when you have an easy kid.  Anyone can raise the placid child, the one who likes to please….the easy-to-get-along-with child.  BUT, it takes different parenting to raise robust, act-before-they-think kid.  If you are the parent of a high maintenance child, then persistence and consistency are your best allies.

“Dr. Sal Severe, author of “How to behave so your child will too!” maintains that consistency is the most important element in a parent’s relationship with their child, particularly when he or she is challenging.  Kids like consistency from their parents.  They like to predict their parent’s reactions.  It makes them feel in control.  And they need to have important messages reinforced so they can sink in.  That takes persistence.

“Here are three practical ideas to consider if you have a high maintenance child or simply a child who can be challenging from time to time:

“1. Use the proximity principle when you direct them. Get up close and personal when you are guiding your child’s behavior. Stand close by, even touch them, to make sure they hear and feel you.  This is not about intimidation, but teaching.

“2. Tell, show, practice.  Create lots of chances for kids to practice social behaviors at home.  Play games, share meals and pack away toys together so kids learn to go slow at home.  It’s easier to teach sociable behaviors at home than in public places and spaces.

“3. Be willing to go home when kids don’t cooperate.  At some point you may have to “bite the bullet” when in public and go home.  In the case of the mom and the boisterous boy I am describing, it was best for her to stay as her son was responding to her reminders.  He was being mindful of others, he just needed to be reminded.  If he had ignored his mom and continued to dominate party proceedings it may have been best for her to take him home.  but in many ways, being at the party was a good learning experience for him.  It was however, wearing for his mom.

“There is a strident lesson to take from his party scenario – we need to avoid at all costs making judgements about the parenting of others, based on the behavior of their children.  Some kids are higher maintenance than others and require their parents to work really hard to develop a sense of “others” in their kids.

“Rather than being harshly judged because their kids are behaving poorly, these parents need to be admired for their vigilance and persistence and given a thoughtful, helping hand along the way because “….there but for the grace of God…”

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