How to Deal With a Difficult Child

Expert Author Susan Leigh
A difficult child can turn a home into a place of dread for all members of the family. The child, too, is often very unhappy and may well be battling with their own inner turmoil, not knowing what to do or how to fix the problem. These situations can often escalate because everyone comes to expect the child to behave badly and so they do. It becomes a vicious circle with no end in sight.
Sometimes it may be necessary to liaise with the family doctor, as a child may be need to be tested for Attention Deficit Disorder or other behavioural problems. These conditions often require professional help to teach the family how to best to handle the situation. However, if the child is clear of any diagnosis then there can be other issues that need to be addressed.
Let us look at some scenarios as to where the problem may have originated. Sometimes a child may have had an unsettled childhood. There may have been illness, major change, arguing or disruption as they grew up and they may now feel a need to be in control of everything in order to maintain a sense of security in their lives. Another potential cause reminds me of a client who was an extremely successful businessman. During therapy he recalled feeling devastated when, at the age of five, another sibling was born. He felt 'pushed out to school' while his mother stayed with the new baby and gave it all her attention. He became needy and disruptive as a result of feeling rejected and replaced in his mothers' affections.
Then there are the children who are completely different to the rest of their family. I have had several clients who were lively and artistic whilst the rest of the family were quiet academics. They felt noisy, stifled and unaccepted their whole childhood, whilst their sibling(s) were the golden offspring. Some children grow up feeling that their life is tough whilst everyone else is having an easy time of it. This belief can cause resentment and frustration to fester as they struggle to manage their feelings. Children do not have the same language skills as adults and need help to find the right words to express their emotions. This can take time and patience, but is part of teaching a child how to successfully communicate - a crucial skill for adult life.
These are a few potential explanations, and there are many more: having a different personality, being the 'wrong' gender, being an unwanted child, being cared for by strict or older guardians are some other factors. But what causes problems for one child can be fine for another and each child reacts in his or her own unique way to a situation.
Here are a few ideas that have helped my clients cope better with their difficult child.
- Regularly reassure the child that they are loved. They may be different than their siblings, but they are unique and have their own special and important qualities, attributes and talents.
- Ignore the bad behaviour and really praise the good.
- Set the child their own specific tasks that are part of a regular routine. Let them know what everyone elses' tasks are. Have a family meeting where they are discussed and agreed, then put the schedule on the fridge door.
- If they misbehave sit and discuss this and ask them what they think the punishment should be. Many of my clients have been amazed that their child has come up with a far tougher punishment than they would have, like no X Box/ mobile phone/ computer for a week.
- Let all family members take it in turn to pick a fun activity for each weekend. Have a rota that is clear for everyone to see and even young children can be included.
- Try to eat together as often as possible. Mealtimes are an excellent opportunity for people to discuss their day and for it to be quickly spotted if someone is being especially quiet or withdrawn.
- Spend time with each child separately. They are all individuals, not just 'the kids' and it is important to get to know them as people in their own right and for them to build an individual bond with each parent in turn. This individual time could be used to discuss important matters and confidences once the relationship has become strong enough.


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