Coping with a Demanding Child

shutterstock_134860055Therapist: “I suspect that you are parenting your child as your mother parented you, and solving problems the way she did, even though it makes you and everyone else miserable.”

Irene: “That’s why I’m here. I see that it isn’t working. I don’t deliberately get angry with my son. But I end up feeling so stupid after I blow up over such small things.”


Therapist: “You aren’t stupid. It has nothing to do with your I.Q. It’s true that you failed to be perfect. Your head told you that buying the toy wasn’t a sound economic investment, but the other part of you, your feelings, wanted some peace in the house and to make your child happy. Your feelings don’t have any brains, Irene, so we cannot say that they are stupid. So don’t do that to yourself. It only contributes to your anger.”

Irene: “I guess I was angry at myself for indulging him. But if not stupid what do you call it then?”

Therapist: “You were imperfect, that’s what you were. You bought the toy for your son, Glenn, but your intention in indulging your child was to relieve your distress, not his. There are other ways of coping with a demanding child. For instance, you can disengage from this power struggle over who can make whom do what. You can choose to agree with the feelings, not the facts. You can agree with him that it would be fun to have such a toy. You can encourage him to use his imagination. Agree that he feels the way he feels: You can say, “It’s awful, isn’t it!” Or, “I get upset too when I don’t get what I want.” You are not agreeing that he is right in his ‘facts.’ You are just letting him know you heard what he said! You are merely agreeing that he said it. This is not ‘pleasing,’ or ‘kow-towing,’ or ‘giving him the satisfaction.’ It is taking the wind out of his sails. You can teach your son how to manage this normal, but unpleasant emotion of anger. You can use the word ‘angry’ in a sentence, “I don’t blame you for being angry” or, “I’d be angry too if…”. You are not a threat or your son’s enemy! You are on his side! When you validate his anger, you are validating him. You are giving him permission to have the emotions that he is having. In addition , you can choose to replace blame with regret. Regret is the wish that things were other than they are. But they aren’t. This thing happened, and it’s regrettable. We can live with the regret that they are less than perfect. Saying “I’m sorry that it happened” is a statement of regret. Your children are not guilty of a crime. It’s not a crime to make a mistake. It’s not a matter of assigning guilt, fault and blame. It is a matter of human imperfection.”

Irene: “What should I do the next time I want to be `good’ to my child?”

Therapist: “You can try saying, ‘No,’ without having any hostility in your voice. You must be mindful of your tone to ensure you are not being antagonistic. Have you ever taken a road trip and gotten lost? You don’t know where you are and feel a bit confused on what to do. Do you stop and get directions? Do you turn around? Do you pull over for the night? Do you keep going? You’re concerned, confused, and unsure what direction to go. That is the tone to use, confused. Really you don’t know what’s going on. You speak slow and softer, but deliberate and clear. Simple nonverbal signals such as a calm tone of voice, a reassuring touch, or a concerned facial expression can go a long way.”

Irene: “I’m not sure that I can make that distinction.”

Therapist: “I know that it sounds difficult, but I never said that raising children was easy. You may have to practice these responses consciously and deliberately until you get the hang of it. But when you let your feelings from the past override your judgment it can turn out badly. Instead, you can choose to shift gears. You can choose to tend to your own wounds. You can choose to calm yourself down. You can remind yourself that you are not a worthless parent if he doesn’t get his way. You are not worth more if he does. You see an equal member of the human race. You can remind yourself that you are not superior and you are not inferior. You are an imperfect human being, who’s judgement is good enough; that you do the best you can with what you know at the time. You can trust your judgment to tell you which circumstances must be resolved immediately, which can wait, and which do not need to be resolved at all. You can trust your judgment to tell you how much responsibility is too much and how much is enough. Your judgment is not perfect; perfection is not a human trait. Your judgment is good enough to get the job done. Having good enough judgment is based on unconditional self respect, which is to say that regardless of your good or bad choices, you are worthwhile and lovable. This doesn’t go up or down depending on your decisions.

Mother scolding son image available from Shutterstock.

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Shared by: Aaron Karmin, LCPC, Contributing Blogger

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