What Happens When We Label "Difficult" KidsFeb 24, 2022
Are you raising a “difficult” kid? As a parent we tend to label our kids “easy” or “difficult” based on how they are for us to parent. Unfortunately, the labels we place on our kids can become self-fulfilling so I’m hoping to introduce a new perspective.
Characteristics to describe “difficult” children can include easily frustrated, consistently inflexible, and very vocal about their opinions — and when they are displaying these tendencies we tend to think that they’re being difficult and we get frustrated.
I invite you to stop and consider how you parent when you are frustrated or even angry. You might be short tempered, you may take it out on the whole family, and perhaps get lost in negative thought loops in your head. You’re certainly not present nor are you parenting calmly or effectively.
My father to this day still remembers (and regrets) the amount of time he spent being angry with my “difficult” sibling, and I’m sure that he thought my sibling’s behavior had to change in order for him to keep his cool. I know that I personally blamed my sibling for ruining a number of family outings and vacations, and thought that if my sibling behaved differently it wouldn’t have happened — it all came down to my sibling having to behave differently.
In my past blog about “difficult” children, I explained how children’s brains develop at different rates. Children are born with a fully developed primal brain, but their prefrontal cortex is under construction when they are young. This is the part of their brain in charge of making decisions, planning ahead, and taking consequences into consideration. It is also responsible for controlling their emotions and body, their self-understanding, consideration of others, and their empathy skills.
What this means is that most times — when children aren’t behaving as we would expect them to — it’s not by choice. It’s just that their brains literally have not fully developed that skill yet, different kids can develop at different rates.
When you have labeled your child as “difficult” that tends to be the filter through which you see the child and that is how you tend to interpret everything that your child does. This can lead to parenting from a perpetually frustrated place — so you are not parenting calmly and effectively. And when you parent from a frustrated place, you and your child end up at odds which leads to more challenging behavior from your child.
In addition, if your child is aware that they are considered “difficult” and that becomes their identity and how they see themselves, it can further cement the challenging behavior. It’s a self-fulfilling and endless cycle.
Consider removing the label of “difficult” and working on seeing your child through a new filter. A filter where their brain has not developed that skill set yet. Can you look at each challenging behavior to assess what skill set it is that is missing?
When you are looking at the challenging behavior questioning what skill is missing you are not parenting out of frustration. You may be feeling more curiosity instead, or even just impartial. Either way, you are parenting substantially more effectively than you do when you are frustrated.
I truly believe that if this information was known and available to my parents 40-50 years ago, things would have been very different for my family. My father would have considered that my sibling’s behavior was due to missing skill sets, and he could have worked to help develop those skills. My sibling would have been saved from years of low self-esteem, and hating her own self-image of being difficult.
I call the ability to parent more impartially Parenting From Neutral, and it’s a skill that I teach parents in my coaching program. This is how you put an end to the “difficult” child self-fulfilling cycle.
Learning to keep your cool no matter what is going on with your kids is one of the cornerstones of my coaching program to parent calmly and effectively. I can and do give you all sorts of tips, tools, and strategies that you can use in challenging parenting situations, but they will not be effective unless you learn to keep your cool so YOU can be effective.
Speaking of tips, I just released a 20 Tips in 20 Days Series with 20 simple, quick, and practical tips that are easy to try. In less than 3 minutes a day, you can make parenting so much easier in 2022! You can sign up to get the Twenty Tips here.
And if you have a difficult child and are at the end of your rope and don’t know where else to turn, please know that I understand and I’m here to support you. If you want help, I’m only a phone call away. You can get on my schedule here.
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