Children & Discipline

How to ‘Fix’ a Problem Child

Published: 19 May 2014
How to ‘Fix’ a Problem Child

Children are challenging. It’s a fact of life for 99% of the population.

We find ourselves simmering, or even boiling over, because of the way our children back chat, and hit us with attitude, annoyances, disruptions, disobedience, and every conceivable inconvenience. As our children’s behaviour challenges us we naturally seek solutions so we can ‘fix’ our problem child.

The Standard Solutions

The solutions commonly suggested are predictable and familiar. We are told to say what we mean and mean what we say. We should not let our children get away with anything. If they do the wrong thing, they must learn that there will be consequences (which is a none-too-subtle euphemism for punishment).

We use threats. We raise our voices and yell. We punish. We remove privileges. We ground. Far too many Australian parents still physically hurt their children. And we do this because they need to learn a lesson. The children need to be controlled.

It seems that in the scheme of things, correcting our children is front and centre when we perceive any sort of rule contravention. In fact parents spend most of their ‘parenting’ time emphasising correction, discipline, and behaviour management. We see our children as ‘problems’.

Children need more time ‘in’, and less ‘time-out’

Research tells us something remarkable, though, about dealing with problem children. It appears thatthe better we get at helping our relationships with our children flourish, the fewer problems and challenges they exhibit. Or perhaps we just perceive fewer problems as we come to value, understand, and love our children more.

But what about when they really ARE a problem?

When our children are being deeply challenging, it requires a greater investment from us to help them. It is at these times – when we feel that they ‘deserve’ our love and attention least – that they need our love and presence the most.

Some may be reading this and thinking, “Oh great. Another bleeding heart who’s all about being permissive and lax.”

Let me be clear: our children need limits and boundaries or they will languish. And they need us to be their parents rather than their friends.

I’m not suggesting we be permissive. I’m not suggesting we indulge them and let them have whatever they want. I am suggesting, however, that we give them the thing they need most: ourselves. They need us; compassionate, caring, understanding, wise, loving parents. And all too often, when they’re challenging us – whether it’s a toddler tantrum or teenage rebellion, or basic backchat and sooking about chores – we dismiss them or disapprove of them. Our natural parenting responses often make us enemies to our children.

A vicious circle

When our children behave in challenging ways, we perceive them as unruly annoyances who are selfish and ungrateful. Our perceptions promote angry, punitive reactions towards them. They perceive us as being hostile at them. They perceive us as blaming them. They perceive us as being their critic and judge. And so they behave in ways that we find challenging. Then we perceive them as unruly annoyances and get hostile, and the cycle perpetuates.

If we ponder that process, we can see that it’s a vicious circle that spirals downwards into a cycle of judgement, negativity, accusation, blame, and poor relationship practise. And it doesn’t have to start with them. In fact, it may be us and our unavailability or unwillingness to meet their needs that creates the challenging behaviour in them.

Ways to deal with problem children

I believe that the best way to deal with problem children, whether they’re teens or toddlers or somewhere in between, is to get out of the negative, vicious cycle of judgement and stop seeing them as the problem that needs fixing. Instead, spend time with your child. Build a relationship of trust and love with them. Enjoy them. Learn with them and from them.

The more challenging they are, the more this applies. When our children are in our arms, they can’t possibly be underfoot.


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