Best Tips for Raising a Challenging Child (From Parents Who Survived It)

Are you or a loved one in the midst of raising a challenging child? It can often feel like you’re at the end of your rope, but you are not alone! We asked advice from a few parents who raised challenging children who are now thriving grown adults. Check out the encouragement and advice from parents who were in your shoes and lived to tell about it.

1. Pick Your Battles
When you have a particularly strong-willed child or a child prone to intense outbursts, it’s good to be in the habit of ranking priorities. Agree with your spouse on three categories of battles you might need to fight:

A) Non-negotiables
B) Goals
C) OK to let go

It’s alright for that C category to be pretty big at first. As you work to understand your child more, and as your child matures, you may be able to move items in category C up to B or A. Just be sure you decide early on what your non-negotiables are so you can be consistent.

2. Stand Your Ground on the Big Stuff
If your child’s behavior gets to the point where you or he is unsafe, it is important that you are willing to put your foot down. For older children, this might even mean being willing to call the police for intervention. Be clear beforehand about consequences if a non-negotiable expectation is not met. Then, be sure to follow through if the situation arises.

3. Always Meet Basic Needs (Food, Water, Sleep)
When these basic needs aren’t met, the medium stuff for your child becomes big and the big stuff becomes intolerable. When a child is battling other behavioral challenges, you don’t want low blood sugar or a headache from dehydration to escalate an already delicate equilibrium.

4. Separate Your Child from the Behavior
While it is sometimes difficult to shower love on a child who is trying your patience, this can make a big difference. It allows them to feel unconditionally loved and accepted, while helping them realize that their behavior is separate from who they are, and that behaviors can be controlled.

5. Seek Professional Advice for Personalized Tools
Sometimes, when a child is acting out, there is more going on below the surface. When you consult a professional about your child’s behavior, you can get a diagnosis that allows you to seek out tools that will be specific to your child’s challenge.

One of the moms we interviewed shared how her son was diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and oppositional defiant disorder (ODD). Once she had this information, she was able to attend specific seminars and ask related advice. From all this, she learned that it takes 300 times the stimulation to engage the brain of a child with ADHD, which is why video games are so likely to catch their attention. This empowered her to use video games as a positive behavior reward.

6. You Might Need to Educate Your Support System
It’s difficult when strangers judge the outbursts of a challenging child, but sometimes these judgments come from those closest to us. Friends and family members may simply see your child as misbehaved or poorly parented, and it can take a while to get them to a place where they can be supportive. Know that educating your support system can be just as challenging as dealing with your child, but it is possible. Be sure to appreciate and cherish those family members or friends who do understand your situation and who are able to help in tangible ways. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for their help!

All the parents we interviewed now have intelligent, caring, and successful grown adult children. You and your child can get through this and can be made stronger through the process.

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