Last week we talked about a young girl, Olivia, an 8 year old who was extraordinarily demanding in her style, with the image of her mom as a nervous servant desperately trying to please her. (see, “Off With Their Heads”).

We talked about two groups of kids.  The first, Group A, is flexible by temperament and generally able to handle “curveballs” or the word “no,” whereas Group B is the opposite – rigid, inflexible and difficult.   “No” is a particular anathema to this group,” and a word that is not easily tolerated.

I know there are lots of programs or therapeutic modalities claiming to tame these challenging kids in short order, but I’m not so sure.

The fact of the matter is that difficult is difficult.

Children with Challenging Behavior -“Opposite Children”

Apropos of that, there was a young boy, Martin, I observed many years ago in preschool.  A challenging child on many levels, I remember that Martin was what I called an “opposite child.”  That is, no matter what the group, teacher or family wanted to do, Martin tried  to do the opposite.

You know the concept of “going with the grain.”  Not Martin.  He was the definition of going against the grain.  Martin was a grain rubber.

A lot of work took place after the observation and assessment of him to help the parents manage his challenging behaviors and to set appropriate limits, but it wasn’t easy.  Martin continually pushed parental buttons to try and have his demands met.

I lost touch with Martin and his family, but just last week Martin’s dad came in to say hello and update me.  Now, a 25 year old medical student, Martin has come a long way.

But in the story the dad told of the adult Martin, there were signs of the four year old “opposite child” self.  Periodically challenging his teachers when he felt they were wrong about something and coming across to his peers like he was superior to them, Martin continued to be someone who wasn’t taking the easy route.

No one thought of him as a flexible person who went with the grain.

How to deal with a difficult child

If you have relatively young children, what do you do if you have an Olivia (“Off with their heads!”) or an opposite child like Martin?

My best piece of advice is that you watch your reactions.  Try to not add fuel to the fire, but don’t feel you need to cater to every whim.

For example, if your Olivia is making her demands (“I want to go to the store tonight for markers.”), don’t take the bait.  Pull back a little.  Let her make her demands, but be careful about not being a “Gumby parent” with no backbone.  (“Sorry, we are not running to the Target tonight to get the markers you wanted.”)

With opposite children be clear in your explanations, but again, watch being held hostage by their demands.

The children who are “opposite” or demanding in temperamental style are very difficult to please and trying to do so is often a losing battle.

Takeaway Point

Steel your nerve as a parent.  Challenging kids are an ongoing challenge.  You can change the odds though.  Practice being firm, clear and matter-of-fact in your style and you will feel less depleted as a parent and more in charge.


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