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Parenting Difficult Children

17 min read
Some children are easier than others. Difficult children can frustrate us, embarrass us and drive us crazy. This article is the beginning of a conversation about the basics of parenting difficult children.

Parenting A Dіffісult Chіld –  Finding Success


Life changes when we become parents. It is the most intense feelings of love I have experienced. Being a parent is also the most frightened I have ever been. I had a c-section so we stayed a few extra days in the hospital. I remember the morning I saw the pediatrician. I asked if Ky would be ready to come home soon. He laughed and said he was ready it was me they were waiting for. Then I commented about how he never cried and was such a sweet baby. The doctor laughed. Do you hear that baby crying – that is him. The only time he is quiet is when you are feeding him.

That was the truth. He cried and never napped. He was not an easy baby. I thought I was completely ready for him. I had been babysitting since I was twelve and I was now twenty-nine. I knew all the right things to do, or so I thought. I panicked the first time I needed to cut his fingernails. I had an experienced friend come do it and he bled! OH MY!

He refused to sleep like most babies. He cried a lot. I cried a lot.

I had a difficult Child!

I was full of joy, pride, happiness, love and fear. I knew that I needed a plan. Unfortunately, I seemed to lack the intelligence to read books. Yikes! I was in trouble.

I remember one day when a neighbor came over to visit. She said, “I had my window open last night and I could hear Ky crying in the middle of the night. My daughter did that. I was so glad it was you and not me.” We both laughed because it was really true!

I had a stubborn, self-centered, grumpy, smart and manipulative baby. I learned right away that babies can complain for no reason other than that they want to be held or to just suck. I had never thought about a baby being stubborn before. He was a bear to put to sleep – fighting it all the way. I kept wondering why? At a month old what was he afraid he would miss?

My brother had two kids when I had Ky and his kids seemed to cooperate. They were put to bed and they stayed there and went to sleep. I had to monitor Ky and lay down with him. The pediatrician said to let him cry it out, “He won’t cry more than thirty minutes. Just watch the clock and know he is fine.”

At the next visit I said, “You come over and tell him he can’t cry more than thirty minutes. He refuses to cooperate!” But, it really was all my fault. I didn’t have a plan

I needed to have a plan.

Since Ky has grown up and I have worked specifically with at-risk, stubborn, sometimes troubled children I have read many parenting books. I have attended many parenting seminars. I have learned what I should have learned before I had Ky. I wish I had a chance for a do-over. Life doesn’t give that to us.

The best thing we can do is to read and think and plan right now for whatever situation we find ourselves in. If you are reading this I am assuming you have a difficult child in your life.

I assume you are tired of phone calls from school. Tired of suspensions. Tired of the negativity of school or chores or anything you think is reasonable.

I hope this article will help you figure out a few things to do that will create a more calm household.


First, we have to understand that parenting is much more than simply feeding, clothing and bathing our child. Raising a successful child to become a successful part of our society involves providing  a home that helps your child’s behavior to improve. It is up to the parent to own their children’s behavior. You can get advice from teachers, counselors and other experienced authorities but they can’t take the advice into action. That is your job.

It is important. A child who is a behavior problem can be very sad on the inside. They crave structure. I hope the following helps you find ideas to help right now. Today you can start to make a happier home for your family.

  1. Punishment vs. Consequences: Punishment is negative. A punishment might feel good at the moment. Let’s say Johnny hit his sister. A punishment might be for you to hit Johnny. After all he should know what it feels like.

Unfortunately, hitting Johnny only teaches him that hitting is acceptable. A consequence is far worse. If you are angry and have no idea what the consequence should be when Johnny hits his sister – tell him to wait in his bedroom until you can figure out the appropriate consequence. I promise you that waiting for the consequence is part of the consequence.


When you lose your cool and yell and throw things and have a big fit your child is winning. He is getting attention for his bad deed. When you isolate him and tell him to wait he has lost all control over you.


You can only control yourself. So, as you think of consequences you must think of things you control.


For instance, “Oh, Johnny! I am so sad for you. You think that you can hit people to solve a problem. I think maybe you learned that from your video games. I am going to take them away from you for two days because you hurt your sister today. I hope you don’t show anymore violence in the next few days. I know you enjoy playing those games. I hope you can earn them back in a few days.


There is no guarantee. You have to do the right thing. Now tonight you need to stay in your room and think about how you can avoid violence next time your sister is bugging you. If you want to talk to me about a good plan we can talk about it tomorrow morning.” Then you hug Johnny. “I love you Johnny, no matter what.” Then ask, “Johnny, do you want the bedroom door open or closed?” and if Johnny wants it open he can’t have any fits. If he yells he learned that you will close the door.


Sounds easy when someone else says it, huh!


  1. It is important for your child to do chores. If you have no chores for your child they feel like visitors. After all, you do not ask a visitor to take out the garbage. That is a family chore. All children need to feel that they are part of the family unit. Everybody does chores without complaining. In my family we all stripped our beds on Saturdays and put on new sheets…nobody left until the house was cleaned. It was routine.
  2. Everybody needs to follow the same rules. If Johnny forgets to bring his planner home from school he has the same consequence every time whether dad or mom gives it Babysitters are fully informed of consequences.
  3. Stay calm, no yelling
  4. If a consequence is not working – try stopping that one and think of another one. Outsmart them.
  5. Have eye contact with your child to be sure they are aware of the situation and consequence but do not repeat yourself.
  6. Remember your child is smarter than the family dog. My family dog hid his face or maybe his entire body if he chewed up something he shouldn’t have. Why do we continue to repeat the rule, “No pushing, hitting or screaming in the car.” Do we think that our children forgot the rule? No they did not forget. We just didn’t give them a good consequence yet.


I had a family stay with me. The girls were horrible to one another whenever I drove them anywhere. One day I was taking the girls to the mall. I asked the sister who was in the bad mood to, “Hey, will you please grab that book right there for me?” Then off we went. We had barely left the driveway when they started fighting. I found a shady spot, pulled the car over and turned it off.


I locked the doors (baby locks in place) and unrolled windows a bit for air. I did not speak. I simply opened the book and started to read. At first they were surprised. “Hey, we will be late. What are you doing?” I ignored them completely. I turned the page of my book.


It took about four minutes before I heard, “Let’s be quiet and maybe she will drive again.” They became quiet. I slowly finished a page. Closed the book. Put it on the seat beside me. Started the car and off I went.


But, that is not the end of the story. The girls started right back in with the arguing. Yep, I pulled the car over and went through the entire process again. This time it took longer because they argued about whose fault it was that I pulled over. Finally they stopped arguing.


I pulled out again. It took them four tries to get to the mall. It took away thirty minutes of their mall time. They had to get back in the car afterward and it took three times to get home. They were testing me. Would I do it if they were going home? Would I do it no matter what?


The next day we stopped having a problem in the car.

I never had to say a thing out loud. I did repeat in my head over and over, “They are smarter than the dog. They are smarter than the dog.”


  1. I had done the most important things. I got their attention without telling them over and over what the rules were. I had a little fun with it. They could see that I wasn’t angry. I was determined. For the rest of their visit I always asked one of them to grab a book for me before I drove them anywhere. Their mother had a lot more trouble following through with this because they just knew she would give in. She didn’t give in and eventually they were well behaved in the car.
  2. Never reward bad behavior – ever
  3. Always praise behavior you like. “I really liked how you two were nice to each other in the car.” Words mean more than candy or popcorn. Praise and acceptance is the best reward. You can give a treat now and then but I would wait a long time before I paid them off with things money can buy. Love is something money cannot buy, pride, acceptance and being a great family are all worth more than any gift.
  4. It is easy to praise someone when they do something unusual. A difficult child needs to be praised when they do things we all expect them to do. “Thank you for having a great day at school.” Most of us do not need our parents to thank us for something we know we need to do – but a difficult child needs all the acknowledgement for positive behavior that we can muster up.
  5. Set clear rules and guidelines: I have found that if I want their rooms to be cleaned it is best for me to take a picture of a clean room. I post it on the closet. This is what the room should look like when you are done. Some parents believe children should give their ideas to the rules of the household but I do not agree. Your children need your guidance. They are not experienced enough to know that dishes need to be washed or toilets cleaned. You need to set up your expectations for everyone – as equally as possible – and enforce them. Teaching them how to complete any task is one of the stepping stones for them to become successful adults. That is our ultimate goal as parents..
  6. Spend Time With Each Child Separately: I think the best thing you can do with children is to find activities you can do together that are not going to cost you anything and that allow you to visit with them. Take them to feed the ducks or to visit all the small parks in your town. Whatever the children will do with you – even going for a walk. It all matters. If you need to keep a record of time with each child – write it down. Make the time “even Steven”.

I think it is really important for you to communicate with teachers about your expectations. Ask them their expectations. Have a plan ahead of time before you start to deal with specific behavior. Never start a behavior change plan unless you can win it. For instance, I had a boy in my class for three days. Roger refused to read to either of his teachers. I told Roger he would not go home unless he read to one of them or to me. I was the principal. Long story short, at the end of the day he was happy and thought he was going home. When his mom came I asked her to go home and get a sleeping bag – for herself – he would not be laying down at all or sleeping. He needed to read to me before he could go home. I told the mom she would be buying pizza for her and me, none for him. He was furious. He wanted to go home. I knew I had the ability to keep him at school because his mother and I planned this a few days ahead of time. She was mad at him and almost took him home. I reminded her of our plan. She sat down and called her husband to get the sleeping bag ready. I called mine to get mine.

A few minutes went by and Roger grabbed a book and read a page out loud to me. I thanked him and told him he was a very good reader. I told him to please go home. I did not remind him of the rules. He was figuring out that I would be more stubborn than he was. He had met his match. I never had to ask him more than once to read when it was his turn.


Be stubborn

Be strong

Be successful

For your children

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