When you have a challenging child, sometimes it feels like you are slogging through mud in the trenches of life. It’s hard to see your way out of the struggle or to remember that there are days that you feel like you are succeeding at this thing called parenting.
However, we all have those days when success in parenting feels like an impossible goal. Maybe you are parenting an adopted, guardianship or foster child who has experienced trauma or abuse. Perhaps they have brain damage caused by prenatal exposure to alcohol or drugs. Maybe they are not sleeping most nights because they still don’t feel entirely safe enough just yet – no matter how gentle and predictable you’ve crafted your nighttime routine to be. Whatever the reason, some kids are simply more challenging to parent.
When you are in the trenches of parenting a challenging child, it’s hard to see a way out of the struggle. In those hard times, you need some “quick” tips and tricks to help you cope. Read over these tips every week until you start to climb your way out of the parenting depths.
- Practice self-care.
Our number one recommendation before you do anything else is to take care of yourself. You’ve heard the airplane analogy, but it’s true. “You have to put on your air mask before you can help someone else.” Your sanity and energy are the most important thing you bring your family and to your challenging child, so you must find a way regularly to recharge.
Take an afternoon to walk in a local park. Go window shopping (or actual shopping) at the mall by yourself. Spend a Saturday morning at Starbucks. Schedule a monthly massage, plan for a regular exercise class. Sing in the church choir. Block out your calendar for a daily run. Whatever feeds your soul and brings you joy qualifies as self-care, and should be a priority in your calendar.
Your sanity and energy are the most important thing you bring to your family and your challenging child, therefore you must find a way regularly to recharge.
- Find your person.
Finding your person is similar to self-care, with a similar analogy: When your battery is dead, you need to connect with a live cell to recharge. Who is your live battery? Who can you connect with when you are in the trenches? Who will understand and support you? It would help if you had an online or in-person friend who’s been where you’re at, a therapist, your spouse, or all three. Find your person and let them know that you are struggling and will need to lean on them to help you through the hard days.
- Educate yourself about the impacts of trauma.
The more you learn about the forces that shaped this child, the better equipped you can be to cope and parent this child. Read or listen to interviews about the impact of trauma on a child. Learn about how alcohol and drug exposure during pregnancy can leave their mark. Begin to understand how your temperament, personality, and attachment style influence how you respond to this child.
- Cut your challenging child — and yourself — some slack.
Cultivate empathy for your child. When you are in the thick of the struggles, that might feel like a tall order, once they are asleep (and looking angelic), remind yourself of what happened to them that brought them to this place. Focus on the fact that your child is not purposely trying to drive you crazy and make you feel like a failure.
While you are thinking compassionately about your child, direct some empathetic thoughts inward. What issues from your past are you bringing to this interaction? Do you hate conflict because of your own family of origin? Do you crave order and structure in your life to feel secure? Does your love language conflict with your child’s? For example, do you want physical affection, but this child expresses love through being helpful? Be kind to yourself while teaching yourself to be compassionate for your child’s path.
- Play together!
Never underestimate the power of having fun as a person and family to help you through the dark times. Allison Douglas, Family Advocate with the Harmony Center, said it well in a Creating a Family AdoptionEd.org course:
“The more difficult the child, the more fun you should be having with them.”
Find one thing that you and your challenging child enjoy and make a point of doing it together frequently. Once you find one thing, look for something else. Please keep it simple, easily accessible, and inexpensive: bike riding, playing catch, making silly TikToks together, reading books aloud, or baking cookies.
Make the Changes
These five tips can help you parent your challenging child. These are not one and done tips that you can check off a list and then move forward. Instead, they will help you focus on healthy routines and planning for YOU if you are like most parents juggling real life. These tips might need to be tweaked and re-calibrated as the current pandemic-living evolves. It’s worth it because these lifestyle changes can open up opportunities to grow and succeed as a parent by any definition of the word!
Reference: Credits: by Tracy Whitney
This blog post was written by Post Adopt Coordinator, Kim Waswick, LBSW