I know, all kids are challenging, parenting is challenging, for everybody, but there is something unique about parenting a child with behavior challenges. It can come with isolation and feelings of defeat. These kids are unlucky, they face bigger challenges than their same-aged peers with coping with emotions, reading social cues, fitting in, etc. They are NOT choosing to be difficult. They really face challenges that not everyone has to deal with. Sometimes they are just MORE. They climb more and cry more, fight more and cling more. Thesekids may move faster, yell louder and make you a nervous wreck! They feel things more intensely, they are super smart, creative and caring, but those awesome traits are often overshadowed by the ones they struggle with.
Punishment is not the answer
Being the parent of one of these unlucky kids is even more difficult than parenting “typically” developing children. It can be very isolating. It’s very hard to share your concerns about your child with your friends, because, they rarely really get it. They try to be helpful, they may ask what the consequences are for you child. They may suggest various punishments/consequences because maybe you just haven’t thought of the perfect one yet. Let me be very clear on this…There is no magic consequence that will teach my child the skills that he/she does not have! Parents are really good at coming up with punishments, from grounding to screaming to corporal punishment and everything in between.
If coming up with the perfect punishment was the answer, we wouldn’t have a problem. These kids have probably had so many more punishments and consequences placed on them then the rest of the kids in their class combined! These kids know they struggle, they know they let people down. They feel like “the bad kid” or “the stupid kid”. They think everyone hates them or is against them. The last thing they need is another punishment. What they do need is to learn the skills that they lack. This sounds so simple, but it is not easy to figure out and the road to getting to this understanding is lonely and rough.
It’s like walking on eggshells
It’s hard to explain to your friends what it’s like to live with a child that may explode or meltdown over things that most kids either do not notice or do not react to. For example, your toddler may cry uncontrollably for about 20 min because their cup fell off the table. Changing clothes on your toddler may be a no holds barred fight on their end because they cannot tolerate the feeling of clothes being put on and off of their body, but they are not yet able to do it by themselves. Your preschooler may refuse to wear shoes when it’s snowing outside and you have to get them to daycare.
You may get a call from your child’s school because they took off running out of the building when they erased a hole in their paper because the letter they wrote wasn’t perfect. Or the call that your child exploded in anger at the fact that the substitute did things a bit differently than the regular teacher. Maybe you feel like you can’t go out to dinner because your child may be disruptive to others if they have to wait a long time in a loud restaurant then the food they ordered doesn’t taste how they expected, even though other kids their age can tolerate it.
You may turn down getting together with other moms and their kids because you don’t know how your child will react, and you’d have to be so close to your child at all times that you wouldn’t get to chat with the other moms anyway. These kids are not bad kids, they just do not have the ability to cope. It’s not their fault or yours, they just started out further behind in these areas than other kids.
You don’t have to have all the answers
It’s humbling and embarrassing to admit that you do not know what to do next. Even if you are well educated about children and child development. Nothing you read is actually helpful. You just want someone to understand what you are going through without telling you how you are screwing it up, you tell yourself that enough without anyone else adding to it. Analyzing every choice you made while pregnant, everything you did and said as your child was growing up. You are so hard on yourself for the mistakes you remember, because you cannot forget that time you screamed so loud you lost your voice. Or those times you just wanted to run away. You may feel so alone. You don’t know who to ask for help because you don’t know if they are going to criticize you. Sharing your successes is hard, (my kid got an out in baseball and did not have a fit!! or My kid actually finished a project/homework assignment in a reasonable time!!) because they might not get it.
You are not alone
I want you to know you are not alone. I try really hard to be open with my struggles and I have met many moms online and IN REAL LIFE that share these struggles. Unfortunately, there are many kids out there that struggle from ADD/ADHD, ODD, Anxiety, SPD, ASD, etc. There is community and there is help. I do want to add a resource for those parents out there that have tried everything… please go to http://ww a .livesinthebalance.org to find a way to work with your child to help them acquire the skills they lack and how to solve problems WITH your child.