Month: February 2010


We recently talked about rigid, inflexible and difficult Marissa, age 7 (  For the next few blogs, I thought we’d stay on this theme and explore the topic of difficult children a bit more.   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.

There are some who believe that these 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, melt-down states. What did it accompish?  Most parents do not resort to smacking anymore.  They’ve evolved from the sins of previous generations.  Replacing smacking, yelling and screaming are now the favored modes of parenting.

When was the last time you felt that yelling really 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!”

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” at all times.                

1)    These children are temperamentally wired for poor coping.  It was not parenting.  You did not create this situation.  If it was parenting, then Marissa’s siblings would also be melting down. These siblings do not show this behavior.  They are flexible and easy-going.
2)    The inflexible kids have a fundamental skill deficit in terms of their characteristic style of problem-solving.  It is this lack of skill that results in their rigid style of responding 
3)    No amount of yelling, screaming (or smacking) will help.  In fact, these will make matters worse. 

Once you embrace these notions, then things can change!  Guess where the change point is going to be focused?  One hint.  It’s not on the child, at least not initially.

Even though I firmly believe in point #1, that you did not create the situation, it’s the adults that can reflect on how they are managing these challenging issues and make changes by responding differently. 

So, parents, you are off the hook (sort of).  Stop blaming yourselves and start looking to how you can change your way of dealing with the child (see next blog post)!!!!!

Tags:  Challenging children, Oppositional behavior,  Learning disabilities, Parenting


In many households there are children causing great distress who are temperamentally, rigid and inflexible. These kids have poor coping skills and become quite volatile if something does not go their way.

John and Mary Ellen are the bleary-eyed parents of three children. The oldest two, ages 11 and 9 are pretty easy-going. For example, when their parents ask them to get ready for bed, the children put up the usual fuss, but before long, they are in bed being read stories. Essentially, the oldest two go along with the program.

Not young Marissa.

Marissa, age 7, almost always goes against the grain. If the family is going in one direction, she wants to go the opposite way. If the family chooses to go to McDonalds, she wants Burger King. If the family wants to play a board game, she wants to watch TV. When she is not given her way or when she encounters even the slightest frustration, Marissa wreaks havoc in the family. Intense melt-downs are almost a daily occurrence.

Two recent stories illustrate why her parents are so bleary-eyed and how challenging Marissa can be:

The other night while John was helping Marissa with her homework, she insisted on writing a capital "L" in the middle of a word even if a capita letter was inappropriate, such as in the word "fiLm." Of course, her father tried to correct her. Refusing the correction, Marissa became extremely agitated, screaming and crying when her father insisted that she change the letter. It was a completely out of control scene that lasted about 45 minutes.

In the second scenario, Marissa, was used to the routine of being picked up after school and taken home. Once home, she counted on having a hot chocolate and watching "Sponge Bob." One afternoon upon being picked up at school, Marissa’s mother informed her that they couldn’t go home right away because they had to go pick their dog up at the groomers. Marissa screamed in a fit of rage, "BUT I’LL MISS SPONGE BOB!"" When Marissa was told by her mother that they had no choice and had to get the dog, Marissa became like a caged animal. Wildly ripping through the grocery bags in the back seat and throwing all the items around in a fit of uncontrollable rage, it took 15 minutes before Marissa even started to calm down.

I know it begs the question of how do we fix the problem? I don’t know if these children can be "fixed," but there is much to consider in terms of the management of their behavior.

There will be more to come on this topic in future blogs.




Tags: Difficult Children, Difficult Temperaments, Parenting


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