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Temperament - Parenting Strategies for Children Who Are "Difficult"

by Maxine
Posted August 3 2010 03:17pm
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Interestingly, the traits that are easy for some parents to accept may not be easy for others to accept.

Parents frequently label their children as “difficult” or “easy.”

This is partly subjective, referring to traits that are easy to accept versus those that are not.  Interestingly, the traits that are easy for some parents to accept may not be easy for others to accept.  And gender gets mixed up in this, too.  A highly active boy is sometimes easier for parents to accept than a highly active girl.

But labeling a child as “difficult” or “easy” is also partly objective.  Intense, highly reactive children are much more difficult to parent.  It is really difficult to listen to a child in distress, and anxious children are going to show a lot more distress than easy-going children.

What should you do if your child is difficult to handle? This can occur with any mis-match of a parent’s and a child’s temperament.  For example, it is often difficult for a very focused parent to handle a child who is stimulated by everything, and vice versa – it can be hard for a multi-tasking parent to manage a very focused child. 

There are also children whose emotions run hot all the time. And this is hard for most parents to manage.

There are specific strategies you can use to parent children with high or low levels of the nine temperament traits, which are often the most challenging to parent.  See the Nine Temperament Traits article to learn more about those.

Nonetheless, if you have a child who is difficult for you to handle, try the overarching Positive Parenting strategies below to keep you on an even keel.

For Yourselves:

  • Ask for help from your partner when you need relief.
  • Offer help to your partner, when you see them struggling.
  • Ensure you get some relief.
  • Take some time away from your child, so you can be glad to see him when you return – such as a part-time job or a class.
  • Find other caregivers who like and understand your child, and will give him quality time – such as grandparents, nannies, child care providers, or neighbours.
  • Use the Reflective Parenting Strategies, to help you find fresh strategies when new challenging situations arise. Learn more about Reflective Parenting.
  • Try reframing the most challenging traits of your child to see the positive aspect of these traits.  For example, a highly active child as an adventurous child or a shy child as a calm and cautious child. 

For Your Child

  • Be as patient, encouraging and understanding as you can, knowing that you may have to do more of this with a difficult child than with a child you find easy to parent.
  • Plan ahead.  You can forecast some stressful situations, and take steps to reduce the predictable tension, before it can take hold. 
  • Make some small accommodations to reduce tensions.   
  • Shape your child's behaviour by having him make baby steps toward the behaviour you desire.  In many cases you cannot totally change your child.  Figure out ways to inch your way toward what will work for you both.
  • Learn when to back off.  It is not helpful to push yourself or your child to the point where either of you loses your temper.  When you feel yourself or your child nearing such a crisis, stop and take a break.  If this is happening frequently, ask your child’s doctor for a referral to a mental health or child management clinic. 
     

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