Other parents have gone before you and faced the challenges that come with a very troubled child. Get a jump on your task and learn from other’s experience. Wisdom is out there. You can avoid common mistakes and the stress they cause everyone.
First things first:
You are not alone. All families experience the same fears no matter what the child’s challenges: guilt, anger, frustration, failure, and mental and physical exhaustion.
There is a way. The steps to finding peace in the home are the same for all families and all children regardless of diagnosis
You can start now. You can improve behavior without having a diagnosis, and the techniques work for the majority of difficult children.
There is reason for HOPE. Your child has the capacity to do well . With your support and treatment, difficult children improve.
Have realistic expectations: They may need extra support into their 20’s… but that’s OK. There’s time to catch up with their peers on education and life skills.
Plan ahead for a crisis, brainstorm options for an effective response and create a checklist. You can’t think clearly in a crisis that you didn’t see coming.
What helps your child in the long-term
Pay attention to his or her STRENGTHS not weaknesses. Always find something great about them.
Guide them to their gifts. Give them ample opportunity to do what they are already good at. They may not be able to be well-rounded, so don’t force them.
What helps you day by day
- Be your own cheerleader. Silently think, “I can handle this;” “I’m the one in control.”
- Regularly talk through your feelings with others who understand and won’t judge.
- Get a life, maintain personal interests, and occasionally set thoughts of the child aside without guilt.
- Commit to doing the best you can, and accept that this enough – plan to let go someday.
You’ll know you’ve done a good job when your child is able to take responsibility for their own care. This is a monumental personal achievement!
How to calm down a tense situation
In a neutral patient voice, give directions or requests. You will need to repeat yourself, calmly, several times. Your voice should not communicate strong emotions. Tone of voice, not words or volume, is what creates a bad response.
Don’t rush calm. Give the child plenty of time to unwind and settle. Calm is more important than quick.
Ensure there’s a calm place to go – a time-out space, even for you.
Bring in help – a therapy animal or another person who can calm your child if you are not able to calm down.
Reduce sensory chaos in your home: noise, disorder, family upheavals, the intrusive stimulation of phones and excessive screen time.
Ideas for managing resistance or defiance
You want your child to be resistant to the negative things they’ll face in life. It represents willpower, and is a strength to cultivate… but only certain defiance.
Be quiet and LISTEN. If you respond, address how they feel underneath, not what they say.
Use reverse psychology–ask them to do something you don’t want them to do, so they can defy you and do the opposite.
Choose your battles. Let them think they’ve won on occasion.
For an ODD child, give multiple instructions at once, including things they do and don’t want to do. It becomes too much work to sort out what to defy and your child may do as told.
Actively ignore – for a child who demands inappropriate attention, stay in the vicinity but don’t respond, look away, act like you can’t hear. They can eventually give up. Works best for ages 2 – 12.
Mix it up – Be unpredictable. Give a reward sometimes but not all the time. Try new ways to use incentives or set boundaries and structure.
9 common parenting mistakes
If you’ve done any of these, don’t worry. Forgive yourself.
1. Treat your household like a democracy. Your child should have an equal say in decisions.
2. Find fault with them and tell them about it repeatedly. If they do something positive, it’s not good enough.
3. Pretend your child has no reason for their behavior. Ignore his or her needs or challenges. Are they being bullied? Are they having a hard time sleeping? Is your home too chaotic?
4. Make rules and only enforce them once in a while, or have consequence come later.
5. Treat your child like a rational mature adult. Make long explanations to a 3-year-old about your reasoning. Assume a teen wants to be just like you.
6. Expect common sense from children who are too young (5), or from young adults with a long history of not showing common sense.
7. Keep trying the same things that still don’t work. Repeat yourself, scream, show how frustrated you are with them.
8. Jump to conclusions that demonize your child. “You are manipulative and deceitful,” “You don’t listen to me on purpose,” “I’m tired of your selfishness…”
9. Make your child responsible for your feelings. If you lose your cool, insist they apologize.
Not problem children, but problem symptoms
When you observe these behaviors, remember that many of them are normal for children from early adolescence into adulthood. For troubled children in particular, expect these and don’t be frustrated by them. What you focus on instead are things pertaining to their safety, education, and physical and emotional health. If these are going along OK, you can work through the other problems with immaturity later.
Does not show common sense and is not influenced by reason and logic (irrational because are thinking is driven by: chemistry, neurological issues, past trauma…)
Has no instincts for self-preservation, and poor personal boundaries (brain disorders delay or limit their capacity for social learning and awareness)
Has no well-adjusted friends, or has friends who lead them in risky directions (they’re being bullied? good friends leave because of their behavior? risky friends share and understand their problems? risky friend are using them?)
Doesn’t respond to rewards and consequences (rational thinking competes with mental noise in their head: paranoia, anxiety, panic, fear, depression. ADD, ADHD)
Has limited character strengths of honesty, tolerance, respect for others, self-control (social learning is delayed or nonexistent)
Seems lazy or apathetic or lacking in willpower (clinical depression, marijuana use, or the result of taking their phone to bed)
Does not make plans they can realistically achieve, hangs on to fantasies (“magical thinking”, mania or hypomania, anxiety, ADHD…)
Acts younger than their peers, they will not be ready for adulthood by 18 (common to many normal children, your child may grow out of it or improve with treatment)
Lives in the here and now; doesn’t think about the past or future (also common to many children, they may grow out of it or improve with treatment)
Does not notice or care about their effect on others. (self-absorption is normal to some degree, but not in excess, instead it could be from: depression, schizophrenia or psychosis, autism spectrum disorders, narcissism, or many other disorders)
Make these your priorities, in order
1. You and your primary relationship(s)
2. Basic needs and responsibilities: housing, clothing, food, income, health
3. Your challenging child or teen.
Lean in. One day at a time. Deep breath. Hope is.