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Interview with Andrew Fuller, Author of Tricky Kids

In Tricky Kids,  author Andrew Fuller, draws on 25 years experience as a clinical psychologist and family therapist to advise parents on how to deal with these kids.

In the book Fuller identifies six types of tricky kids –

The Manipulators

The Negotiators

The Debaters

The Competitors

The Dare Devils

The Passive Resisters

The Emotional Background to Tricky Kids

Verity Leatherdale:    How can parents identify and address the emotional underpinnings of their child’s tricky behaviour?

Andrew Fuller: The first thing is that tricky kids are actually very resilient characters, they’re success-oriented children that try out a particular behaviour and if it works for them they just keep repeating the same behaviour. The risk for them is that they become one trick ponies that they just play the same card no matter what the gain is, and that can just drive people berserk.  

So one of the things that we try to do is not take away their strengths in that area but try to broaden their abilities and their diversity of responses.  

We know that behaviours in all humans often mask fears or feelings and so we’ll often see that the kids that are a bit like the manipulators often feel that they’re not special enough or they won’t be loved sufficiently.

Negotiators fear that if they don’t wheel and deal that somehow they’ll be left behind and won’t be regarded. Competitors may boast about their accomplishments then end up as successful but quite lonely people. So for parents it’s actually helpful to try and take a richer view of what’s going on, that success is good but success at any cost is not good.

Most parents want their children to have a happy life and they want them to be successful as well, and they don’t always necessarily go hand in hand.  

You say while all kids fear rejection and isolation and abandonment, you think the tricky kids fear that even more than other children…?

Yes. In a way tricky kids are strong individualists so they basically see themselves as having the power to change things, which is a very good feature. Some of them have become not as reliant on other people, so what they’ve done is relied on themselves to try to cope with the world.

The downside of that is that sometimes they may feel a bit disconnected or anxious about whether they’re loved and so their sense of belonging, which is one of the most powerful underpinnings of resilience, gets shaken a bit. They might belong well to themselves but they don’t necessarily have a strong sense of belonging to family or to their school or to the sports team for example or a group of friends.  

So it can be tough on the parents because while on the surface these kids can appear to be quite successful, underneath is this anxiety which means that they’re feeling disconnected. Parents need to be mindful about how they help their child have a sense of being connected to their family.

For example, some of the competitors are very good at brushing off any sign of affection, they don’t want to be perceived as being weak and so when a parent says to them ‘I love you’ or something like that they sort of dismiss you, ‘give me a hug’ they say ‘no thank you very much, I’d much rather go out and play’ or something like that.  And it can almost be tempting for parents to give up on all that sort of thing but I think it’s important for parents to realise that unless they do provide those sorts of messages on an ongoing basis then these kids can actually just fall into a trap of their own creation.

Building Belonging, Family Rituals

What are some of the tactics you suggest for building belonging?

Really make sure that your child knows that you love them, and keep telling them and telling them until they’re sick of hearing it. While it might sound obvious it actually is something that some parents just give up on at a certain age.

‘Oh well they know that, they know that I love them’ I often hear parents say. Well the truth is that they don’t. Particularly if these kids are getting a hard time at school with some peers or are not feeling particularly linked in, then it becomes a big risk for them.

The other one concerns rituals. You might do regular things as a family together. Some tricky kids don’t bond necessarily through words about love and feeling alone, but they do bond typically through activities and action. Tricky kids are by and large active people that basically do lots of stuff and so sometimes it’s more effective to do some stuff together and by doing that they actually get a sense of belonging.

If a parent is tempted to use family rituals as either a punishment or a reward how would you feel about that?