“I guess I really messed this up,” said Jennifer, the mom of an 8 year old child who was extremely difficult and challenging.
The kid, Olivia, was one of those kids who melted down when she didn’t get what she wanted. With the slightest bit of frustration or difficulty she starts screaming, crying and flailing around.
Along with being “meltdowny” (I know it’s not a word), she was also demanding. As an example the mom told the story of trying to pick out a communion dress for Olivia. Every one the mom picked was quickly dismissed by Olivia. “I hate it!!!” she would scream, while the mom would scour the internet for just the right dress, having already had numerous unsuccessful experiences shopping with Olivia at various dress shops.
As the mom told me the story, I had the image that Olivia was like the Queen in Alice in Wonderland, with all of the scared servants running around trying to please the queen.
Parents (well, at least the moms) will think that they “messed things up,” as Jennifer suggested, and that the kid is a direct product of poor parenting.
That is, it was all her fault.
I really don’t see it that way.
I wasn’t trying to let Jennifer off the hook, but I said to her that there were essentially two types of kids:
Group A: These are the flexible and easy going ones. They roll with the punches, can handle curveballs (“No, we’re not going to McDonald’s tonight as we had originally planned), and are able to tolerate frustration.
Group B: They are the opposite of Group B kids. They are inflexible in style. The smallest change leads to major eruptions. (“But, you promised we were going to McDonald’s,” as the child screams, cries and carries on at great length.)
It is my impression that the moms (haven’t seen it with the dads) are all too quick to blame themselves, that if they were only a different kind of a parent, their child would be a Group A type.
Rather than thinking that these children fall into these categories as a direct result of parenting, I see them primarily the result of their temperament.
Almost always, when the parent tells the story, the behaviors and style emerges long before any parenting (good and bad) has had a chance to take hold. (You may want to read the classic book by Stanley Turecki, The Difficult Child, which was revised and expanded in 2000 from the original.)
Difficult kids are difficult kids. They are consistently a challenge.
Next week we will elaborate on this theme and talk about parent role and involvement with these kids.
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