Christine Kutzner M.Ed., RCC - Counselling Services

Parenting Matters Printable PDF version

Volume 20, January 2010

Happy New Year!  I have a great feeling about 2010.  Our family is healing from the death of my father and having our first Christmas without him was sad.  Our focus is to make small things special, like finishing an assignment on time, watching some pre-Olympic sporting events and wondering if we will run into any athletes on our streets.  It seems silly, but it does shed some light on “life goes on”, and we can keep growing while we are grieving.  For me, I have been kept on my toes with not only the private practice, but in preparing for public presentations.   

In January I spoke at the Grand Boulevard Parent Participation Preschool on Understanding Anxiety in Young Children. It was an interactive evening, and what a supportive parent group!  I will be speaking there again this March on Parenting Your Strong Willed Child!

I have been writing in the last two newsletters about parenting your difficult child.  I will continue in this Vol. 20, focusing on the “how to” in parenting challenging children.

Tips on Managing Difficult Children

What parents need to ask themselves is, “who is in charge?”  Parents can feel so beaten down by their challenging child that they give in, or use ineffective discipline techniques, or they say “no” a lot, or start disciplining for every infraction because they are so frustrated.  Taking charge means being clear on what your bottom line is. 

Each parent needs to make a list of behaviors that they consider really unacceptable.  Then, switch with your partner and view their list.  Try to distill the list down to a few behaviours only.  In part, your list may include behaviours that are entrenched in a difficult personality trait.  This list will help both parents to focus on just a few behaviours at a time.  I know this is where many parents worry that they are giving their strong willed child permission to be worse or ignore other manners, but frankly the more the parent can disengage from catching their child misbehaving the better the mood will be in the home.  Instead, comment on what is going well.  This will help your child’s self-esteem and over time will promote more compliance from your child.  For example, ignoring when your child calls you stupid, or eats a cookie for breakfast.  You will be able to address these types of issues when the relationship is better.  Therefore, when both parents are making their list and checking it twice, ask yourselves:  “Is this really important?  Can I let this go?  What would happen if I just wait?”

Parents have to plan their actions to be a unified front.  This would include rules, routines, and expectations.  Please have this discussion away from your child and try to make it constructive rather than an “our child is always out to get me” type of discussion.

  1. Define your rules – be clear with your child and use a non-threatening tone.
  2. Structure and routine – be clear so that there is predictability.  All children do better when they know what is expected of them.  So look at setting up a predictable sequence of events occurring in the same order daily.  It is important for children to establish a morning and an evening routine.  For young children, this can be down on a chart.  For teens, you can draft up a contract that outlines expectations, house rules, and what will happen if they are not followed within a reasonable amount of time. 
  3. Set up a behaviour management chart if needed.  This chart, like a behavioural contract, must only target one or two behaviours to ensure success.  Have rewards to motivate your child or youth.
  4. Supervise the first time your child is trying out the new routine, then convey that they are capable and leave them alone.  If they are not successful, the behaviour management chart helps as you will only withhold a check mark or star and will be able to avoid punishing your child.

What makes this difficult?

Once you and your spouse are on the same page and can support each other when your child is pushing the limits, talk a deep breath and don’t respond emotionally or instinctively to your child’s misbehaviour.

  • Don’t take it personally. 
  • Focus on your child’s behaviour and not on his motives.
  • Do not negotiate or plead with your child. 
  • Convey that you are in control. 
  • Do get into the habit of warning your child all the time.
  • Act, don’t Yak!

This may take you and your spouse a few days’ worth of discussion to both be on the same page and to work out exactly how you want to organize your behaviour chart.

I have recently worked with some families where the parents are angry and disgruntled that their child’s behaviour is not improving after having tried everything.  The common themes that seem to interfere are:

  • Mom and Dad have different parenting styles and didn’t put much thought into how they are going to approach this situation as a unified front.
  • One parent is undermining the other parent’s authority by giving in when they feel desperate, or when they feel sorry for their child.
  • They have decided that one or two behaviours is not even close to bringing order into the household, so they add more target behaviours at the last minute.  This will make your child unsuccessful and parents will give up early feeling this technique doesn’t work.
  • Parents forget to reinforce their child’s effort on the behaviour management program mid-way through, so the difficult child may lose momentum.
  • The parents themselves are skeptical and make disparaging comments, demonstrating that they do not have faith that their child will follow through.
  • Anger and frustration get in the way of looking at the positives that exist.

I will share more ideas on how to manage your difficult child over the course of 2010!  I hope this has been helpful to those families who are trying hard to have a calm household.

Christine Kutzner Counselling Services 604-339-5774

Christine Kutzner, M.Ed. is a Registered Clinical Counsellor providing services to children, parents and families in North and West Vancouver. To inquire, contact Christine.

Copyright Christine Kutzner, 2010. All rights reserved.


Christine provides counselling services to children, parents, and
families in Vancouver, North Vancouver, and West Vancouver.

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