Help! Our kid is a mon­ster at home

Parenting - - In This Issue -

Dear Jenny Jackson,

We have an ex­plo­sive eight-year-old daugh­ter. She has al­ways been like this but we as­sumed we would be through it by now – that it was a phase she’d grow out of. She re­acts to be­ing asked to do the usual things like get­ting ready for school or bed. She ex­plodes if she doesn’t like what we are hav­ing for din­ner, when do­ing home­work or chores, when she's not get­ting on with her six-year-old sis­ter, and the list goes on. Her teach­ers say she’s great at school and has friends, and we al­ways get good re­ports when she goes to play at her friends’ houses. She can be lovely – in­tel­li­gent, kind and funny, so how come she’s so dif­fi­cult at home? We’ve tried rea­son­ing with her and be­ing tough – time out doesn’t work be­cause she won’t go to her room or keeps com­ing out if we do man­age to get her in there. She can ruin fam­ily out­ings with her out­bursts. It’s like she holds the fam­ily ran­som. Can you help?

Some of Jenny's tips

It never ceases to amaze me how dif­fer­ent kids within the same fam­ily can be. Just when we think we’ve got this par­ent­ing gig sorted, we have a to­tally dif­fer­ent per­son­al­ity come along. Some chil­dren can be equally fab­u­lous and frus­trat­ing – some­times kind, car­ing and help­ful, and at other times, prickly, tir­ing and ex­as­per­at­ing. I think one of the most steady­ing things in this sit­u­a­tion is to have a long-term pic­ture – a kind of an­chor. Who do you want your girls to be when they’re ready to launch them­selves into the world as adults? What are a hand­ful of key qual­i­ties you'd like them to have?

Most par­ents say they want re­spect­ful, re­source­ful and re­silient chil­dren – or a vari­a­tion of th­ese char­ac­ter traits. This long-term view will help you keep your per­spec­tive when things are tricky.

The other an­chor is to have a list in your mind of what you like about your chil­dren – what qual­i­ties do you see from time to time that you ad­mire in them? When we see our chil­dren through the lens of th­ese lovely qual­i­ties, they pick up that we like them and aren't just tol­er­at­ing them. And so, they are much more likely to co­op­er­ate with us.

The en­cour­ag­ing thing you can hang onto here is that your daugh­ter knows how to be­have at school and with friends. You have taught her well. Let her know you see this – “I heard from your teacher that you’ve been look­ing out for some of the younger kids. That’s kind of you.” Or, “Chloe’s mum said you were really po­lite and help­ful when you went to play to­day.” Fill her emo­tional tank when op­por­tu­ni­ties present them­selves or look for op­por­tu­ni­ties to en­cour­age her.

The big chal­lenge with chil­dren who have strong feel­ings is to help them learn to man­age them­selves. The first step to­ward this is our abil­ity as par­ents to re­main as calm as pos­si­ble. This is very steady­ing for chil­dren. Then kids need op­por­tu­ni­ties to off­load their emo­tions. They may need some op­tions to choose from – for ex­am­ple, “Are you frus­trated or dis­ap­pointed?” We need to let them know it’s nor­mal to feel that way – “Okay, that makes sense.” Once they’ve had the op­por­tu­nity to off­load and la­bel what’s go­ing on, they’ll be bet­ter equipped to pick a so­lu­tion. “So what would help? Do you need to run around the house first or are you ready to get dressed now?” Some­times they’ll need time to think about what they need so you can say, “Come and find me when you’re ready.”

Some­times there isn’t time to go through this process, so then it is a case of giv­ing your chil­dren two choices. For ex­am­ple, “Do you want to get dressed first or have break­fast first?” This gives pow­er­ful kids some con­trol within steady bound­aries. Again, they might need a few min­utes to make up their minds.

Of­ten th­ese kids need to know what’s hap­pen­ing in ad­vance. They strug­gle with spon­tane­ity. We called it ‘planned spon­tane­ity’ when we cot­toned onto it in our fam­ily! We can defuse a great deal of tension by say­ing, “We’re go­ing to the beach tomorrow. Think about which friend you want to in­vite.”

The out­come

We im­me­di­ately latched onto the idea of of­fload­ing emo­tion. It’s such a sim­ple frame­work if we’re calm enough to act on it. We don’t do it all the time but when we do, our girl calms right down. She loves hav­ing in­put into choos­ing op­tions when we lis­ten to her. She is great at com­ing up with ideas and this gives us the op­por­tu­nity to praise her, which then calms things down even more. We’ve no­ticed that she is a lot more help­ful for some time af­ter we’ve done this. If we don’t have time to go through the whole process, your idea about two choices works most of the time. Thanks too for your com­ment about some kids be­ing dif­fi­cult. That took a lot of pres­sure off us be­cause we really had been think­ing it was our fault some­how. We feel like we’re head­ing in the right di­rec­tion – long may it last!

Fill her emo­tional tank when op­por­tu­ni­ties present them­selves or look for op­por­tu­ni­ties to en­cour­age her.

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