Q&A: Challenging Child

QUESTION

My husband and I have two little boys and a baby on the way. I am especially concerned about my son who just turned four.  He is physically healthy and strong for his age and looks like he is two years older than he really is.  He is a loving brother and smart boy, however, at times he is defiant and sometimes gets out-of-control with aggression if I follow through with him in any physical way.  He has always been a demanding child compared with his brother and other children I see.  It seems like the first four months of his life he was either crying or sleeping.  Of course, I was a first time parent and trying to figure things out myself.  I have wanted to talk with a doctor who specializes in these things, but my husband doesn’t want him getting a label (ADHD—Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or ODD—Oppositional Defiant Disorder, etc.) that he would have to live with and he feels like I just need to be a better parent.  I am trying to be more consistent with him and “make it worth his while” but I feel like I need to do more. There are so many different ideas about parenting that someone will always say whatever I am doing is wrong.

ANSWER

Lili: Some kids are definitely more challenging than others from birth. There seem to be some kids who are more naturally defiant and less responsive to normal parenting practice. Of course, I don’t know exactly where your son is on the spectrum. He sounds fairly challenging. However, I do understand your husband’s concern about acquiring a negative label for your son.

So–a few thoughts:

1-Parenting with Love and Logic is a solid parenting approach. There is a book and there may be classes available as well. Some kids “give us the opportunity” to really take our parenting efforts to the next level.

2-While I understand your husband’s concerns about labeling, if he wants to address your son’s behavior in the home then he needs to play an active role in addressing a difficult parenting situation. Fathers should be involved in discipline anyway and a challenging child definitely needs the combined efforts of both mom and dad. He needs to be very involved, including backing you up in your efforts, handling discipline himself whenever possible, following up on emphasizing and supporting your efforts to teach and correct, and one-on-one time for the two of them, to give you both a break.

3- Especially with a difficult child, it’s easy to get too negative. Say yes whenever you can. Even when correcting behavior, try to state it positively instead of negatively.

4-Build the relationship. Try to generate positive interaction with your son. Do fun things together. Further, we’ve got to make deposits before we can make withdrawals. If the relationship is too strained or conflicted, everything becomes a battle. And long after we realize we’ll never control our kids (control shouldn’t be the goal, anyway), if we have a positive relationship, we’ll have influence.

5-When you do need to say no, try not to let anger take over but hold the line.

6-Of course, pray individually and as a couple for ideas, direction, and patience in dealing with your son. God knows what your son needs and what you need as parents in order for all of you to successfully progress.

Chris adds: Never underestimate the value of stubbornness on the part of the parent.  A strong-willed child sometimes gains power by just waiting a little longer than the parents, to get what they want.  Going into a disciplinary situation with a child takes a lot of patience and commitment and a willingness to see it through. The goal at that time should be to focus on the child’s behavior and provide corrective measures for the sake of the child.  I agree that anger is not helpful. When the child senses parental anger, they usually see their negative behavior as getting a payoff. Taking time to regain our control and focus on the target behavior can make the difference. Patience with him and with yourself is key.

Good luck to all of you from both of us.

  1. I have an 10 year old daughter, an 8 year son who was colicky and awful as a baby. I have discovered, now that he is older and we talk…that he needs more of my attention than my daughter or his little 3 year old brother. I have come to the conclusion that he is acting up to get any attention at all. Giving him one on one time and truly listening to him and his interests seems to help his behavior. He is a boy of course so he still acts crazy sometimes but that is normal. That is sometimes a hard one too. He has so much more energy than my other 2 kids combined. Find a way to put that energy into something he enjoys. That is just the experience I have had with my awesome son. Good luck.

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