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Parenting a difficult child - Part 1

Posted August 18

Question:

I have a son who is a very difficult child, and I really struggle to get along with him. That’s probably an understatement. He makes life harder than it needs to be and fights us on everything. He doesn’t do anything until I lose it and get mad or mean. I love him but I don’t like him, and that makes me feel terrible. Any advice on this would be great. I want to have a good relationship with him, but I don’t know how to change this.

Answer:

Children (and people in general) are easier to understand than you think, and if you can understand or get clarity around what makes them tick, you will then know exactly what they need and how to motivate and get along with them.

In my work I have found there are 12 psychological inclinations or types of people (you can learn about them here), but to make understanding your child super simple in this article, I will divide people into two types, which apply to both parents and children:

  1. People who need control most to feel safe.
  2. People who need approval or validation most to feel safe.
The questions you must ask yourself in order to understand the dynamics of your relationship is: What do I need most and what does my child need most?

Think about this for a minute, because you might already know.

If you are a control-focused parent, you may be overly focused on tasks or things. You may like order and structure and everything in its place. You may run a tight ship and expect obedience. You may lose you temper easy or feel taken from, offended, walked on or mistreated quite often. You may have a victim mentality, at times, about the way life has done you wrong. You may be a perfectionist and be critical when things don’t go the way you think they should. You may have high expectations and might get frustrated or angry when a child doesn’t do what you ask and quickly. You might feel disrespected and try to demand respect. You might behave badly when you feel out of control. (All of these might not apply to you, but some of them will.)

If your child is control-focused (which sounds like yours), you probably have power struggles every day. These children want freedom more than anything else. They may want or insist on making their own choices as much as possible. They might manipulate you to get their way, especially if you are a validation/approval focused parent. Control-focused children may also get passive aggressive if they can’t openly defy you without getting in trouble, and this could make them hard to like. These kids want respect and agency to find their own path, and they will often fight you for it.

If you are a validation and approval focused parent, your greatest fear is failure, looking bad and/or criticism or judgment (not being liked or good enough). You may be quite strict because you are trying to prevent looking bad to others or you could be overly lenient and avoid discipline so your child will like you. If you are like this, your child can subconsciously feel your insecurity and might use these to manipulate you or disrespect you, especially if you get emotional or dramatic when you feel disliked or not good enough. You could also be overly focused on earning your value through your appearance, performance, property or popularity, and your children may feel they come second to your needs for yourself. They could feel this and resent it. Does this sound like you?

If you have a child that needs validation or approval, they might do anything and everything to get your attention. If good behavior doesn’t work, they might try bad behavior. These kids need a great deal of praise and reassurance, and if they don’t get it or aren’t feeling important or special, they could act out. If you are a control-focused parent, who is often frustrated when not obeyed, you may be prone to frustration toward your child. To the approval-seeking child, this may feel like disapproval. If they feel they can’t ever please you, they may give up trying. They may fight with you because they resent not feeling more important. If you are an approval-seeking parent, you might make everything about you and forget to validate your child enough.

Once you have figured out which dynamics are in play in your home, here are some tips for dealing with each other:

  1. If you have control-seeking children, they need freedom, lots of choices and respect for their ideas and abilities. They need as much control as you can give them. They will behave better if given choices as much as possible. You should also listen to them, ask questions and include them in decisions, rules and consequences as much as you can.
  2. If you have approval-seeking children, they need praise, time, attention and validation. They need confidence-building activities and chances to shine and be appreciated. These kids also want to be heard, so listen to their ideas and opinions and be careful about how much you verbally criticize. These kids need to know they are valued, and you should focus most on their qualities and attributes more than their appearance or performance. This will help them to see their intrinsic, infinite worth. Teach them to see all human beings have the same value, no matter what they do. There is a Claritypoints for Confident Kids worksheet on my website that could help you teach them correct principles around self-worth.
  3. If you are a control-seeking parent, you must work on letting go of some control. You must choose your battles carefully and trust the universe or God to handle many of the lessons. The universe is a wise teacher that knows what it’s doing. Things happen to provide each of us the right lessons we need to become better. The more you trust the process of life, the better you will parent. Also see everything your child does as your perfect lesson today. Each experience is here to help you become better. Remember your child is your teacher, every bit as much as you are theirs. Always stay more concerned on fixing yourself and you will have more to give to your kids.
  4. If you are an approval-seeking parent, you may need to do some work on your self-worth. You may want to work with a coach or counselor to help you see your value as infinite and unchangeable. You must stop worrying about what people think of you and focus on being the source of love and wisdom in your home. You must show your children mature, confident, loving behavior by example. Robert Fulghum said, “Don’t worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you.” You must show them you aren’t afraid to make mistakes and your self-worth isn’t in question every day. This will give them permission to see themselves the same way.
Virgina Satir said, “Feelings of worth can flourish only in an atmosphere where individual differences are appreciated, mistakes are tolerated, communication is open and rules are flexible — the kind of atmosphere that is found in a nurturing family.”

You can create this in your home if you accurately figure out what you and your chid need and focus on giving more of that every day. You will be surprised how quickly they respond and behave better when their needs are met. If you need additional help with parenting skills, I highly recommend getting some professional help.

You can do this.

Kimberly Giles is the president of claritypointcoaching.com. She is the author of the book "Choosing Clarity: The Path to Fearlessness" and a popular life coach, speaker and people skills expert.

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