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How to parent a difficult child

Michelle Maffei is a freelance copywriter covering a variety of topics both online and in print, from parenting to beauty and more. Combining her two favorite loves, writing and motherhood, she has found joy in even the most challenging ...

Tailor your parenting style

Ever used the following to describe your kiddo? My child has trouble adapting to new situations. My child is easily upset. My child is high strung. My child is stubborn. If so, then you may have a difficult child. But parenting difficult children does not have to be a battle of temperaments. Before you resort to tearing out your hair in frustration, find out how to parent a difficult child by tailoring your parenting style.

Difficult child

Keep your cool

Difficult children can be more assertive, so temper tantrums are often part of the package. Despite your initial urge to express your own frustration in the heat of the moment, remember that it often only makes the situation worse. The key to helping your child regain composure is to keep your cool. A calm disposition can be contagious…especially when dealing with an outburst in public.

Set clear expectations

Assuming your child already knows what is expected of her is not only unrealistic, it is not fair. Letting your youngster know exactly what the rules are, how to gain rewards and what the consequences will be is a strong foundation for transforming your household from a place of turmoil to an environment of encouragement.

Consistency is key

Following through with appropriate, pre-determined consequences is a must, because these high-spirited children are often more perceptive. Being consistent with consequences will also teach her that she is responsible for the choices that she makes.

Focus your energy on the positive

Sometimes, difficult children yearn for attention of any kind, even when it is negative. But, it's important to offer your persistent child the kind of attention that will mold her behavior in the future, which means showering her with attention when she makes good choices and cutting down on the draining negative attention.

Show some empathy

Whether it is entering a new situation or trying to express a desire she has, show your kiddo some compassion for what she's feeling. "Empathy does not mean you have to like the behavior, condone the behavior, but you can respect that this is the best the child can do at this moment," says Dr. Joseph Shrand, Instructor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, Assistant Child Psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital, and Medical Director of CASTLE (Clean and Sober Teens Living Empowered), in Brockton, Massachusetts. "Parents can set limits, enforce rules, but still have our children feel valuable, capable, safe, and encouraged to reach their unlimited potential."

Feeling like you have hit a road block in your ability to parent your difficult child? Do not be afraid to seek help. A professional may be able to give you the tips and tools you need to tailor your parenting style and manage your child's energetic, highly sensitive, stubborn or distractible traits and uncover the loveable, unique individual waiting to be understood.

Read more about kids and behavior


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