Parenting Difficult Children - no matter their issue

Some might approach this page cautiously, offended that I call it "Parenting Difficult Children." So let me just get this out because I'm not a beat around the bush kind of gal (which so gets me in trouble on frequent occasion)....

Children are wonderful and great and fun and teach us lots about ourselves and the world. Watching little people develop can be awe inspiring. And most days we wouldn't give them back. But, if you are the parent of an ADHD, or bipolar, or learning disabled, or sensory disabled, or other kind of mentally or emotionally challenged child, you already know that this is EXHAUSTING, AND SOMETIMES SPIRIT BREAKING WORK!

And very often it is more the difficult stuff than it is all rainbows and flowers, at least during some stages.

You have likely encountered many incredibly embarrassing melt downs from your child in public where people unfailingly stare and mumble under their breath "Why can't she control that kid!?" If you are like me, maybe you have even had the pleasure of being punched by your elementary aged child in the presence of strangers. THAT's A FUN ONE!!!

Or how bought this that happened to me just recently in a grocery store....Waiting in line to check out with my son who is moderately out of control at the moment and my lovely 9yo daughter. My son is talking non stop, rambling about how he gets to the have the TV when we get home, grabbing "his food" out of my daughter's hands as she tries to help me unload the cart yelling "don't touch that, it's mine!", making sure everyone can hear him, you get the idea. The entire time I'm telling him "ssh, keep your voice down, don't talk to your sister like that, cut it out....." This woman standing behind us in line finally says to him, "WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?!" He immediately shut up, jumped to my side with this victimized look on his face (which I hate) and said he would wait outside. I WAS MORTIFIED! I burst into tears in the car, sent him to his room when we got home. I still haven't recovered. I was so embarrassed. That woman was making all sorts of judgments about him and me but in reality, she had no clue what makes him tick and why he was acting that way, so really, she was out of line. However, I will say that I will remind my son of that feeling again when the need arises!

You will likely encounter many people, including professionals, who will tell you how to get control of your kid. How you are parenting your difficult child incorrectly. And you will likely sit there blindly staring at them and politely nodding your head while simultaneously thinking "This person has no idea what I deal with and is completely out of their mind if they think that [enter here whatever strategy they are proposing] will work!"

And you know what?????

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Parenting difficult children with emotional and mental issues is not a game of punishments and consequences. It is solely comprised of getting them to survive long enough to reach the point where they are developmental ready to learn all the skills you have been trying to teach them and can intrinsically take responsibility for their own disorder, behaviors and life.

So what does that mean? We don't assign consequences? We don't punish horrible behavior? We don't have expectations?

NO NO and NO

It means this : All of the disorders we have discussed are DISABILITIES. You cannot punish a child for behaviors caused by their disability over which they have no control This is the 1st and most important rule. Remember it.

Think of it like this - You and your spouse really want to try a great new family restaurant that just opened up. You get there at 6pm, a good time for dinner, with your 3 year old in tow (it is a family restaurant remember). But since the place is new, it is very busy and the wait is at least an hour. But you decide it looks to be moving quickly so you figure you will chance it and wait. Finally at about 7pm, you get seated. By 7:30, your adorable, loving 3 year old has started whining, then crying, then maybe throwing the crayons. When 3 year olds get really tired, they throw huge temper tantrums! Is it her fault you waited an hour to get seated? Is it her fault you have to wait for the food? Is any of the situation her fault OR under her control? NO

So - is it fair to punish her? Again, NO. All you can do is survive the humiliation of the scene she is causing, try to be reassuring to her, tell her to "use her words", and probably get your food to go.

And then, by the time she is 6 years old, maybe even older, she will learn to just tell you she is really tired instead of throwing her crayons.

Now, apply that theory to parenting our difficult children - our mentally and emotionally challenged children - and you should expect them to be anywhere from 2-5 years behind in the growth and maturity development scale as it applies to controlling themselves in any capacity that is already compromised by their disability.

All that said - here is what I suggest you do when behaviors get out of control and you find yourself stuck in the "parenting difficult children" dilemma...

There is no magic answer. We all do things wrong sometimes. We can all learn new things.

Just don't second guess yourself too much. Parenting difficult children is not an exact science. You know your child better than anyone and you will often know without having to think too hard what will work and how much you can handle.

And the final reinforcement of the most important lesson I have to offer : Don't worry if you feel like you are not consequencing your child often enough. Sometimes just putting out and surviving each little fire is about all any of us can handle. AND, for many of these children, their day to day life is a huge consequence.


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