It’s Not Your Fault! The Lesson I Learned Parenting a Difficult Child

Posted March 8, 2015 by

As an infant, my daughter was a fairly easy baby. As long as her needs were met, she was an easy child, very alert and highly social. However the older she got, and the more her idea of what to do conflicted with what I wanted her to do, the more “difficult” she became. She seemed to have a will of iron.  When she made up her mind to do something, she didn’t care what the consequences were going to be. She was going to do it.

The terrible twos became the tantrumming threes and then the frightful fours.  I struggled for years with a deep sense of failure regarding my daughter.  I kept wondering when things were going to get better.   If I could keep her busy and engaged, she did okay. But whenever there was a conflict, she would dissolve into tears, screaming and flailing on the floor. This line of poetry came to mind frequently: “When she was good, she was very, very good; and when she was bad, she was horrid.”

I hoped that starting school would help her settle down. Many mothers of high-intensity kids told me that that was the case with their kids. However, our family made the choice to homeschool; so we not only battled over things like cleaning up, taking care of hygiene, and being considerate, we also battled over school lessons. There was no break from one another, so the arguments and bad behavior affected me all day, every day.

It’s not that every day was one misery after another. It was the fact that her negative reactions were so intense, and her feelings so huge, that one difficult moment could make the entire day go south in a hurry.  And every time I was confronted with her intense reactions, I would ask myself what I had done to cause it.  I found myself having thoughts like: if I were a good parent, my daughter wouldn’t be acting this way; if I read this parenting book and implement the suggestions, my daughter will be compliant, and so on.  At one point, I figured I was being too harsh. So I swung the pendulum the other way and tried being more lenient. Nothing helped. I believed the lie that good kids are made by good parents. Since my daughter was difficult, then I must be the cause; my poor parenting had made her the way she was.

Looking back, I can see my faulty logic. Now that we have other kids, who handle things much more “normally,” I know that my daughter’s reactions were not my fault.

If you are parenting a child who frequently has you in tears, if you feel like a failure as a parent, if you beat yourself up over the way your child behaves, I want to share with you the lesson I’ve learned.

Some kids are hard.

No amount of punishment, bribes, positive reinforcement, talking, hugs, lecturing, crying, begging, pleading, or fury can make a “difficult” kid an “easy” kid. Some kids are compliant, okay with taking instructions. Others are born questioning why anyone else on the planet should have the right to “boss them around.” Each personality presents its own parenting challenges. No personality style is all good or all bad, though some are more challenging to raise.

Many of your kid’s traits are innate and cannot be changed, no more than they can change their eye color, height, or skin color. As parents, our job is to teach our kids to moderate their natural impulses and use them for “good,” rather than “evil.” Your child’s obstinate, passionate, perfectionist personality is the way that Nature made him, and one day it could serve him well. My mother said it well when my daughter was about 4 years old: “If you can ever get that child pointed in the right direction, you won’t have another moment’s worry because nobody will ever be able to talk her into anything that she doesn’t want to do.”

So if you are raising a “challenging” child, take heart! It’s not your fault. You can learn to parent your child effectively. Even if it takes a while for your kid to develop the maturity to handle his or her emotions, frustrations, and personal challenges in a healthy, appropriate way, it will be okay. Learn to stay positive, discuss things with your child in a positive, non-critical way, and stay firmly consistent. Things will improve over time.

One more thing—once I stopped seeing my daughter’s poor behavior as a reflection of my parenting, my emotional equilibrium improved. I wasn’t taking tantrums and back-talk personally, so I could respond in a much more consistent, kind, and loving way. I was able to be more creative in solving problems. My daughter also picked up on my new ability to step back in the heat of an argument and handle things more maturely. And that’s something we both needed.

 

April Freeman is a mother of four children. Ever since her daughter was an infant, she knew there was something just a little bit different about that one child. Despite the difficulties, April has homeschooled her daughter (along with her other 3 kids) for the past 12 years. It’s not always been easy, but it has definitely been worthwhile. 

April’s not a parenting expert and doesn’t claim to be one, but after reading every parenting book she could get her hands on, she has learned by experience that she is the expert on her own children. There’s never going to be a magic bullet that makes a “difficult” child an “easy” child, but by trying to look at the world through the eyes of her kids, she can try to help them overcome their own challenges.

When she’s not hanging out with her kids, April helps run her family’s beef farm and loves to grow vegetables of all kinds. She’s also a part-time freelance writer and keeps up with several different blogs. You can check out her food blog at Feeding My Family and her homeschooling blog at Hot Mess Homeschooling.

About

April Freeman is a mother of four children. Ever since her daughter was an infant, she knew there was something just a little bit different about that one child. Despite the difficulties, April has homeschooled her daughter (along with her other 3 kids) for the past 12 years. It's not always been easy, but it has definitely been worthwhile.

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  1. Momom Report

    This is so awesome to read.  I also have learned, over 17 years of raising my son, that you cannot change this “personality”/ “way he was born”– But I had the more difficult piece of him in the school system.  I think that made things much worse (much to my disappointment– as I am a teacher in that system), but the key has been to communicate, always, with my child.  That has saved us, him and our relationship.  🙂

    Reply
  2. Momandstudent Report

    You’ve described my daughter exactly. She’s been different since day one. I’ve tried everything with diligence to work around her difficulties but nothing works. She just started kindergarten this week and I’ve gotten a call from the school every day regarding her behavior. Our oldest two children are nothing like her and they’ve all been raised the same. Breastfed, stay at home mom, loving and nurturing environment… I homeschooled the first two for 12 years of their lives and suspect I will have to do the same with our youngest. My only worry… Her becoming a social reject. Not from homeschooling, but because there’s never a time when I don’t have to apologize to another parent for my child being out of line. 🙁

    Reply
  3. Jeaniegirl Report

    Overall, my 5 year old son is fairly easy but is very strong willed. We have finally gotten him to do as told at home but at school he has been a real problem. He has been dismissed from one school because of defiance and hitting other kids. He says he is sorry and can verbally tell us what he should not do. After being out of school and home with us for a month I got him into another pre-school. He has been there a week and I just found out from his teacher that he is yelling at her, disobeying her, throwing books around and showing his male parts them at least 3 times already. He knows this is wrong. I have taken him to a child psychiatrist and she recommended we work on anger issues and we did. I am not sure if he isn’t comprehending that fact that he should not be defiant or if he just doesn’t care. Consequences don’t bother him. We are still trying but it worries me since he needs to be in a school because I do work and he needs to be with other kids socializing. We are waiting til he is 6 before he goes to kindergarten because he just isn’t ready to work even though he can do the work….he just doesn’t want to. All his teachers say he is very smart but they cannot control him. I am very sad and very frustrated.

    Reply
  4. dkcjjgm Report

    The last eight years have been a roller coaster of events, not easy, but way worth it. I went from just myself to having a man and two kids overnight. Then after our marriage, we added three more kids to the mix. Our second to last child has always been 100% boy! Right from the beginning. He is also very strong and could carry around two gallons of milk at two years old! He is full of energy and life. We named this child very well. His personality and name fit together great: Gunner. Gunner recently turned four and like I said, he has always kept us on our toes. With our older three, this slowed way down at four years old. Not so much with Gunner, his behavior has increasingly worsened. My gut told me his behavior wasn’t going to correct itself like the older three had. With all of our children, those terrible two’s and three’s were horrid at times but four seemed to bring new hope! Gunner turned four and it just wasn’t the same. A month ago I was getting notified of Gunner’s not so good behavior at school. These tantrums weren’t just an every once in a while thing. They were FULL BLOWN meltdowns with kicking, screaming, biting, hitting, anything possible. I had experienced these meltdowns many times on my own but others (teachers) seeing this made me more aware that this wasn’t normal and this wasn’t okay. He did everything possible to go against what he was told to do and laughing about it. No discipline was was working. I had days I was sitting at home crying on the couch because I just didn’t know what to do anymore. He wouldn’t listen to me. We scheduled a doctor appointment and saw a local doctor. She didn’t diagnose him but said she thinks ADHD and bipolar. I was completely taken back by the word “bipolar”. She gave me some packets and ordered a sleep study (which is 2 months away) and said to see her again after we get that sleep study done. Also she suggested getting him into counseling. The doctor appointment was on a Monday and Wednesday was our counseling session. In between these days I did LOTS of research and out reach of friends/family help. Bipolar was not making sense. The sleep study was ordered because he does have night terrors, walks through the house in his  sleep, still wakes up at night, and still requires a pull up at night. The pull up thing doesn’t bother me, his 5 year old brother just stopped using pull ups at night. We saw the counselor and as we walked in the door Gunner had a meltdown. The counselor saw this first hand. As we started to talk about Gunner I held back what the doctor had said and what I had though was wrong. She then said her thoughts: ADHD with ODD. ODD stands for Oppositional Defiant Disorder. Second time I had heard ADHD associated with Gunner. The ADHD was not a shock as we have a ten year old with ADHD. My thoughts before this counseling session had been ODD as well. He fit every single symptom. We will now see her every Wednesday with Gunner and hopefully have questions answered. Questions like: How do I get through to him I am serious? How can I prevent him from getting hurt if he won’t listen to me? What can I do to help him? The word “no” is a for sure way to get a tantrum to start. I cry so much from exhaustion and not knowing how to handle my own baby! This just doesn’t seem right.

    Reply
    • Empowering Parents Coach drowden Report

      dkcjjgm
      Thank you for writing in and sharing your story with Empowering
      Parents. I’m happy to hear you were able to find someone in your area to help
      you and your family through this tough situation. Many parents find having
      someone who is able to work with them and their child directly to be very
      helpful. I hope you will continue to check in and let us know how things are
      going for your son and your family. We wish the best of luck to you and your
      family moving forward.

      Reply
  5. Quinnie Mac Report

    I was the best mother in the world until one night when  was working she moved out loc stock and barrel.  All the jewelry, clothes, tuition I paid and truck including insurance was paid.  I still don’t know why she did it.
    She eventually moved in with a guy, got pregnant, reunited with me but then we had an argument and I did not see her or the baby for a year.  I don’t know when they got married.  
    There have been brief periods o being together with me walking on eggs all the time in fear I would do something to make her blow up at me … and i would slink away until some olive branch from me was accepted.
    My grand daughter really loves me and I am just the loving grandmother to her.  Engaging in whispers … which is girlish.  I don’t complain about her childrearing …. i complment her …. and the last time Meg was threatening gd I whispered to her to please eat.  My daughter is 6 feet 185 pounds.  My grand daughter is a waif … and sometimes my gd runs away and is  sad when this happens.  I comfort her and I did say once you know I know your mother loves me even though she sometimes is mean to me.: Gd who is now 4 just nodded.  She is very upset when I leave … sometimes tearful for hours.schizophrenic.  I am a tall but much more frail woman whose health is not good.  
    And  other people have noticed that her version of the truth sometimes strays from realitty.yIt’s been 3 weeks now and she will not respond to my attempts to reach out to her.  I told her … just tell me your rules and I will comply. The husband follows alonng.
    She now claims her childhood was miserable and she did not want me whispering things to Neva that make her look bad. I was a single mother and she was abused by a baby sitter so I have been very protective of her and ruined my career because I could not leave her with anyone.  I had no family … it was just the two of us until that night. She goes out of her way to be pleasant and charming to everyone but me … particularly her in laws.

    Reply
    • Empowering Parents Coach drowden Report

      Quinnie Mac
      What a tough situation. We hear similar stories from other
      parents of adult children, so, you’re not alone. I can hear how upset you are
      that you’re not able to spend time with your granddaughter because of the
      disagreements between you and your daughter. I am sorry you are going through
      this separation from your daughter and her family. The unfortunate truth is
      your daughter can decide how much, or how little, time she spends with you.
      Regrettably, this may also impact the amount of time you can spend with your
      granddaughter. Keeping the lines of communication open between you and your
      daughter is one step you can take, as Debbie Pincus discusses in her newest
      article http://www.empoweringparents.com/estranged-adult-child.php#ixzz3VDziWWgJ. It’s
      also going to be beneficial to take steps to care for yourself. This sort of
      estrangement can cause a lot of stress and emotional pain. Putting aside time
      to do things you enjoy can help ease some of the distress you may feel during
      the times you’re unable to see your granddaughter. Finding people you can talk
      to, like parents who are facing similar estrangement or a counselor, can be
      helpful as well. The 211 Helpline can
      give you information on available resources in your area, such as parent
      support groups or counselors. You can reach the Helpline 24 hours a day by
      calling 1-800-273-6222 or by logging onto http://www.211.org/. We appreciate you writing in and wish you the best
      of luck moving forward. Take care.

      Reply
  6. Tiredmum Report

    Thank you for this article.  You offer a message of hope from your own experience that I have not found on other sites about difficult children. Its the worry that things won’t get better or that they will hurt people and themselves and become awful, anti-social human beings that makes you want to give up on them sometimes.

    Reply
    • AprilFreeman1 Report

      @Tiredmum Blessings to you. Too many other parenting techniques rely on a magic formula that promises that your hard child will become easy. It’s quite demoralizing to find that NOTHING works. I want parents to learn that their children and their family are DIFFERENT and shouldn’t be treated in a one-size fashion. Watch your child. Learn what makes him or her tick and try to work WITH their personality, strengths, and weaknesses.

      Reply
  7. Anna Report

    Good for you April. As a fellow homeschooling mom I can relate, two of my children are like this. I’m sure you’re acquainted with the Pearls teachings and others like them. There are a number of narrow-minded, mean-spirited, bigoted religious teachings like theirs that teach just the opposite of what you’ve written here. I’ve been around the block with this issue and know after years of trying to “fix” my children that I was wrong trying to follow these religious “teachers.”
    So on one hand, you have many in the homeschooling community judging you, saying you just need to train your children up in the ways of the Lord. And then you have everyone else you know, looking at you like you’re completely stupid as they ask, “Why don’t you just put them in school?” as if farming out most of the work to strangers who don’t know and love your child, is going to fix things.

    Hats off to you for your courage and determination. And thanks for sharing, it’s good to know even after all these years, that there are other moms who understand.

    Reply
    • AprilFreeman1 Report

      @Anna I’ve heard of the Pearls. Some of their stuff is okay; other stuff…mmmm…not so great.  And for many children, their approach may work. (although I do know that many people carry this approach WAY too far.) Typical kids get a light swat on the bum and decide to change their ways. What’s wrong with this approach though is that it fails to take into account the challenging kid mindset. The child who doesn’t think vary far ahead and who would rather die than give in. Also, it generally can set up an adversarial relationship rather than one of cooperation. Parents can’t decide ahead of time that this one approach is guaranteed to make their kids angels. Parenting is much more nuanced than that.

      Additionally, there are many Biblical approaches to parenting. You can be a good Christian parent without relying on heavy-handed, unkind, and just plain mean parenting techniques.

      Reply
  8. lindasb2010 Report

    Thank you!  I needed that.  I have a very strong willed child adopted from foster care.  She is obstinate when challenged on something she is set on doing.  I have learned to stop taking things so personally and things are better.  I still feel very judged by other parents and am learning to let that go.

    Reply
    • AprilFreeman1 Report

      lindasb2010 There are so many challenges to this type of personality but in the end, if you can teach your child to challenge their stubbornness, it will serve them well. Remember that in some contexts it is stubbornness and obstinance…In other contexts it is perseverance, determined, and tough.

      Reply
  9. PixelMom Report

    Thank you for this article! I am a mother of 1 spirited child and, not having other kids to compare with, often believe the same internal monologue you’ve described here. For others with spirited kids, the book “Raising Your Spirited Child” by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka was a great help. It’s one of the only reads I’ve found specifically for parents of kids who are “MORE…”

    Reply
    • AprilFreeman1 Report

      @PixelMom I’ve not been able to find that book, but I also was very helped by “The Explosive Child.”  It really was a breakthrough for me to learn other ways of managing the difficulties of parenting this kind of child.

      Reply
  10. theroamingwam Report

    Emp_Parents Thank you for this. Other parents can make you feel as if it’s your fault though. Forgotten about how much I like ‘obstinate’!

    Reply
    • AprilFreeman1 Report

      @theroamingwam Emp_Parents It was very helpful for me to realize that I was given MY PARTICULAR CHILD for a reason. The task for raising this child is mine alone. I remember how good I was at parenting before I had kids. Additionally, I’ve found that many parents with generally compliant kids have no clue what we are up against. I would have thought myself an amazing parent if I just had 2 of my 4, who are pretty easy. Genetics is really an amazing (and sometimes discouraging) thing.

      Reply

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