Is This Really My Child?

Children can be challenging. Nothing to water down or explain. Children are a handful. 

Who recalls the 1990 movie, Problem Child, tracking the adventures of the mischievous Junior? A pint size little "devil".

Junior up to no good at a child's birthday party.

Junior up to no good at a child's birthday party.

Sure, at first they are cute and adorable, with their chubby cheeks and their infectious laugh at pick-a-boo. Then...they start growing up. Perhaps at times, you have even caught yourself wondering, "Is this child from the planet Earth?!" or "Is this child really mine?" The answer to both of these questions are Yes.

At this point you may be thinking, "Does this guy even like children?!!!" The answer to that is a resounding YES! I love children. I love my own two daughters tremendously. Further, I did not accidentally walk into the wrong courses on Play Therapy day after day, week after week, several semesters in a row, during grad school. I intentionally walked in with a desire to learn about working with children. I wanted to make a difference in people's lives, including little ones. So if you a difficult child, is there hope? YES!

The facts: Children makes mistakes. Adults make mistakes. We all make mistakes. Alright, now that we have established we are all members of the same club, let's establish some ground rules for our group. Mistakes will happen, it is inevitable. So instead of beating ourselves up about it, lets choose to learn from our mistakes. Next, some important club reminders.

First things first, you are not alone. Second, many resources are available to help you along your way. Lastly, while all of these points might not pertain to your specific family situation, hopefully there is something of benefit for you or someone you know.

Here are five of the common parenting missteps reported to me:

  • Inconsistency: have you ever set a clear rule, only to overlook it time and time again? How about setting a consequence only to wipe the slate clean for good behavior or because your child started to throw a mega tantrum and you just want to shut them up? Perhaps you never came up with a consequence in the first place and you are to busy to do it on the fly so you just give them "the look". All of these actions in repetition can undermine your authority. 
  • Relying on good intentions: basing all your decisions on what will make your child happy is a surefire way to have it blow up in your face. Oscar Wilde said, "It is always with the best intentions that the worst work is done." Part of helping prepare your child for the real world is teaching them how to deal with adversity. How exactly do you propose they learn how to deal with it, if they never experience it?
  • Unrealistic expectations: wouldn't it be great if children were perfect little soldiers! They always remembered to clean up after themselves. They earned a 100% on every homework assignment, quiz, project, and test. They always used their table manners. In addition, they never talked back and they always spring into action the first time you ask them to do something. Picture a typical weekday...you're curled up on your comfy couch or favorite arm chair, child's homework done, house cleaned spotless, dinner in the oven, your child is off playing nicely, the house is silent, and you have your new favorite novel in hand. That's the dream! Realistic though??
  • Monkey see, monkey do: what you do, your child will also do. Yell and you will likely raise a child who yells...as a child, an adolescent and as an adulthood. Look at your phone or laptop all day and you will raise a child who will throw a tantrum when you take away the iPad. Gripe and complain about your spouse, teacher, in-laws, friends and your child will do the same. But how about "Do as I say, not as I do". Survey says.....X!! It doesn't work. 
  • Losing track of connection: connecting more with your phone than your child's academics or interests. Your child connecting more with Facebook or Instagram then conversing with the family. You are connecting more with work than family time. Losing track of connection with each other and yourself. Remember, you are important too!

Ok, all of that is what doesn't work. So here are some alternatives to try:

  • Consistency: children thrive with structure and consistency. They crave it. Set limits for choices and behaviors. If children do not have limits they act out because they are left unbridled, roaming free. Set the ground rules for your home (including electronics) and then stick to them. Decide to change a rule, that's fine. Think it through and when you change it stick to it. No waffling back and forth, ping ponging between rules. Do that and your child will be ruling your house in no time.
  • Do what is truly best for your child: this means telling them No at times. Your life has not been easy. You have learned from adversity and failure. Allow your child the same opportunities. Coming to their rescue every time they face a challenge robs them of vital life experiences. 
  • Cultivate gratitude and joy: What we shine light on grows. Spend your time harping on all the ways your child falls short and you will quickly severe your relationship with your child. Focus instead on the daily practice of expressing thanks as a family for each other. Take time to share encouragement (not praise) for accomplishments. Communicate thanks for the things you have and don't take them for granted. How is it that your child is not happy when they have everything they could possibly want? Bingo! There is nothing left for them to desire or work for. They grow bored. Your child takes material things for granted because they are expected. Recapture gratitude and unlock joy. "There is no joy without gratitude." - Brene Brown.
  • Be a model for your child: let your behavior communicate what you desire from your child. Your child is always listening. Even when you think they aren't listening, they are. So if you desire them to speak respectfully to others (including you), speak that way to them and others. No matter what. Yes, even when they yell at you and use language and names. Take ownership of your mistakes, ask them for forgiveness - without allocating blame to them (ie. I am sorry I yelled when you didn't follow my directions) or asking them to apologize for their part.
  • Connect, connect, connect: spend time with your child, play with your child. Show interest in their lives. Sit down with them and go over their homework. Talk about their day, the books they are reading, and their friends. Put down the device. Give them your undivided attention. Do fun things together, that do not involve screen time. Division within the house occurs when loved ones stop acting loving toward one another. This happens when they forget what that looks like. It is a faded memory. Start creating new memories. 

This entry started off with a clip of a "devil" child. While you likely do not have a "devil" child, perhaps they are difficult more days than not. And it likely didn't happen over night. So prepare yourself as this is going to take some work to bring about change. BUT, there is hope! It may include relearning how to communicate and connecting with one another. It may call for both of you processing hurts and frustrations that have been experienced. Remember, you are not alone and help is available. In the end, picture yourself holding your son or daughter close to you and saying, "This is my child." In the end, it is so worth it!

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