Monday, November 11, 2013

Making Peace With Your Problematic Child, Part 2

As we resume our talk about difficult children, I want to begin with a few preventative measures that help keep meltdowns and horrid days at bay.

Establish Routine:

All children benefit from a daily routine, but with high-needs children this is especially important. They're less able to adjust to change, so once they realize we've mixed things up, their stress levels elevate and poor behavior emerges. Think of it this way: When a child's internal regulators are faulty or immature, causing the child to act impulsively, a routine, predictable environment functions as a substitute regulator. When we mess with their substitute regulator, they're lost and frustrated.

I'm the first to admit that it's hard to get up every day and do the same things in the same order, but this is what most kids need to feel secure.

For example, if I'm behind on bill paying and I'm forced to sit down in the morning and get paperwork ready for mailing, my children will notice the change of routine, and sure enough, within twenty minutes I'll see behavior problems.

Routine is comforting to kids, not boring, but most of them can't articulate or understand this. When they get cranky, they don't always know why.

When I was teaching first grade the worst behavior I saw came on specialty days (field trips, awards-assembly days, field days, and during holiday celebrations). It's wonderful to give kids something to look forward to, but be ready for a more taxing day and try to prepare them ahead of time for the altered schedule.


High-needs kids also need more time to relax--a segment of their day they can use as they wish, with no demands placed on them. They can't handle as much errand-running or as many extra-curricular activities. It's temping to think that if we keep kids busy enough, they'll stay out of trouble. But how do we feel when every minute of our day is filled? Cranky, right?

Johnny may swear up and down that he wants to play soccer this season, but does he really understand what the new schedule will look and feel like? Can he predict that it's going to make everything feel rushed (homework, dinner, bedtime...everything)?

It helps to remember that unlike us, children have little control over their schedules and that in itself can be difficult, especially for strong-willed children. Give them a segment of time each day to call their own, and if they need assistance coming up with free time ideas, you can help them brainstorm a list of available options, emphasizing that the goal is to relax.

Positive Feedback--Running Journal Conversations:

I mentioned last time that I wanted to discuss ways to counteract negativity in daily interactions. One way to do this is to keep a running journal conversation going with your child. Sit down at night after all are in bed, and write a letter to your child, recording what he did that impressed you or made you feel proud. Tell her how much you love her, and how blessed you are to be her mom. Also, if your child is old enough to write back, respond to the last entry he wrote in the journal, and try including key Bible verses that will help your child feel the depth of God's love for him.

This is a time to say all those lovely things you were too stressed to say during the day. They really need to be said and a journal is perfect for this. When they're in trouble frequently during the day, the positives get lost in the fray while mom or dad are trying to recover emotionally and mentally from frequent altercations.

Often, the more we get upset, the less they feel loved, and the more unloved they feel, the more they misbehave, even if they can't articulate exactly why. It's a vicious circle that must be broken by an explosion of positive feedback.

Positive Feedback--Fill Their Emotional Cups:

Carve out a few minutes during the day to fill up their emotional cups, starting in the morning. Some kids might enjoy a hug and a loving morning greeting, others a story, others a cup of cocoa and some conversation. The more children you have, the harder this is to fit in, but it really does work.

When our husbands, for example, take the time to fill our emotional cups, doesn't it set the tone for a lovely morning? We all need this.

Positive Feedback--Stop comparing:

It goes without saying that kids don't appreciate being compared negatively with their siblings or peers. Deal with the issue at hand without bringing in hurtful comparisons. When we blow this, we need to offer an apology quickly.

For one thing, when we compare, children get the impression that they're the cause of all the trouble in our lives--as though without them, life would be peachy. What a way to empty their emotional cups and invite more trouble!

Positive Feedback--Daily Impromptu Prayer Sessions:

Sit down with your child as soon as you feel the stress level rising between you. Hold hands and pray together, asking God to intervene in your relationship. Your child will appreciate that you care enough to ask God for help, and she will learn that God is your strength and your song, and that this same close God-relationship is available for her too.

Positive Feedback--Finish Strong:

If your child's a handful at bedtime, this one is especially hard, but try to finish the day strong in the Lord. Even if the last minutes are strife-filled, take a few minutes to calm down, and then walk back into their bedroom and kneel and pray together. Humbling ourselves before God in this way, hearts as one, reminds us that we're in this together, and even though Satan is trying hard to bring us down, we will still triumph if we lock hands and hearts with the Father.

Something to take with you....It takes a lot of positive feedback to counteract everyday mistakes made while parenting high-needs, high-maintenance children. We have to take responsibility before God for our parenting mistakes, and ask Him to direct our path as we work to accentuate the positive and leave negative relationship patterns behind.

Very often, when there's a difficult child in the home, there are also broken relationship patterns that need fixing. We are not the cause of our child's difficult issues or difficult personality, but we can certainly be part of the problem.

Prayer and humility go a long way. Praise God that we serve a gracious Father who's always willing to give us a fresh start.

To recap:

~ Establish Routine
~ Ensure Relaxation
~ Have Journal Conversations
~ Fill Their Emotional Cups
~ Stop Comparing
~ Impromptu Prayer Sessions When Stress Levels Rise
~ Finish Strong in the Lord

What works in your home? Do you have a high-needs child?

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