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Letting Parents Off the Hook (sort of)!

It’s a two way street for parents.

When their kid is a dutiful citizen, smiling in circle time, raising his or her hand, getting the homework handed in on time, the parents swells with pride, thinking something like, “We’ve done a good job parenting this one.”

On the other side, when a child is inflexible, challenging and not going along with the program, the parents (usually the mom) takes a lot of heat, blaming herself and pondering continually what she as a mom did or did not do.  The internal monologue goes something like this, “Gee, Marissa really behaves badly.  Her play date was awful today.  It must be something I did when she was in preschool.  I know I should have been more responsive to her.  Then she wouldn’t be acting this way.”

The fact of the matter is that Marissa, age 7, is one of two kids.

Marissa the oldest of two girls is temperamentally inflexible and difficult.  She doesn’t cope well when things don’t go her way.   Over the years so many parents have come to talk to me about children like Marissa who are holding their family hostage as a result of their behavior.  The other child, age 4, is flexible and easy-going.

There are some who believe that these challenging kids need a “heavy handed” approach.  My secretary, nostalgic for the good old days used to say, “Don’t you think they just need a good smacking?”

Well, many a parent has tried smacking a child like Marissa when she goes into one of her wild, tantrums or melt-down states. What does this accomplish?

Most parents do not resort to smacking anymore.

They’ve evolved from the sins of previous generations who used to smack a lot.  Replacing smacking, yelling and screaming are now the favored modes of parenting.  I did a parent workshop not too long ago and asked the moms how many have yelled at their child in the last day or so and virtually every hand shot up.

Really, when was the last time you felt that yelling made the situation with your difficult child better?  No child that I know has ever turned to her parents saying something like, “Thanks mom and dad for all that screaming – I get it now!  I will change my behavior.”

A first big step toward change (increasing the child’s flexibility and reducing the number of meltdowns) is to embrace a few notions about these rigid, inflexible and difficult children, the ones who go “against the grain” most of the time.

To embrace such a child a few points may help (some):

  • These children are temperamentally wired for poor coping.  It was not parenting.  You did not create this situation.  If it were, parenting, then Marissa’s sibling would also be melting down.
  • Inflexible kids have a fundamental skill deficit in terms of their typical style of problem-solving.  It is this lack of skill that results in their rigid style of responding
  •  No amount of yelling, screaming (or smacking) will help.  In fact, doing these will usually make matters worse.

Once you embrace these notions, then things can change!

Even though I firmly believe in the first point that you did not create the situation, it’s the adults that make changes.  Kids have a very tough time changing, where adults can reflect on how they are responding.

So, while parents are off the hook (sort of), it’s the parents that can reflect.  Stop blaming yourselves and start reflecting on how you can change your way of dealing with the child (see future posts for more on this)!!!!!  There are little secrets of parenting success that may help – stay tuned.

Richard Selznick, Ph.D.  is a contributing blogger for JenningsWire, a blogging community created by Annie Jennings.