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Parenting Difficult or Tricky Kids

Do you regularly get into endless debates with your child? Or, do you often feel emotionally blackmailed? Is your child extremely competitive? Is she a risk taker? Is he a master negotiator?

Nearly all kids will present parenting challenges during their childhood but some kids are, depending on your preferred description, tricky, challenging or hard-to-handle throughout their childhood.

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.

While he discusses specific types of tricky behaviour Fuller’s broad suggestions, related to both your and your child’s social and emotional development, are -

Stop whatever you are currently doing. Step back and observe.

Take a break. “Stop yelling and stop telling” and for a little while watch what the pattern of behaviour is in your home. Think about when and where conflict arises. Fuller believes that “families change only when the parents change what they do” so he wants you to work out your family pattern before changing or fine-tuning it.

Importantly, don’t just watch your child’s misbehaviour but focus on what happens when they are having “non-problem times”.  This is also part of refocusing on your child as a person who is not defined solely by their problem behaviour.

Be realistic.  

Don’t be overambitious about changing your children’s behaviour.  To maintain your sanity and energy Fuller suggests choosing one behaviour you want to increase and one you want to decrease and then work on them, and only them, for six weeks at a time.

Remove the audience for your child’s behaviour.

Whether it’s you, their siblings or their peer group, many tricky kids actually thrive on the drama, intensity and verbal gymnastics of a dispute.  Also try to emotionally connect, at calmer times, about issues that matter to your child.

Be aware of how your reaction to your child’s behaviour can, inadvertently, end up making you imitate the very behaviour you are seeking to change.

For example if your child endlessly debates every instruction or suggestion, don’t start, in response, endlessly justifying yourself to them with more and more reasons and examples.

Rituals are very important as a foundation for resilience in tricky kids. 

Fuller says family rituals, whether the Monday swim, the Wednesday TV show, the Friday clean-up or the Sunday visit to Grandma, are often sacrificed when you are handling tricky kids. Fuller says a ritual is “something you do regularly as family that does not depend on how children are behaving”.  The “power of ritual for tricky kids is that they deliver an unambiguous message: this is the way we do things here.”

For tricky-kid-households he focuses on three areas where it is good to apply rituals: getting out of the house on a weekday, household cleanliness and spending time together.

While he emphasises the role of rituals, Fuller also suggests spontaneity and changing the responses that don’t work. 

Tricky kids often rely on your predictable response so if possible try a new approach to break the cycle and loosen their control. Be open to experimenting as you begin this process.

While all kids fear rejection, isolation and abandonment Fuller believes tricky kids fear them even more than other children.

He says you must build belonging with your child. Choose a new activity that you can do together, where your child can take the lead and have you all to themselves for at least 20 minutes.

“Until you change their mood, you can’t change their behaviour”.

It’s much more difficult to communicate with a child who is stressed, distracted, tired or angry — choose your moment to get your messages across.  Your child’s mood might be changed with sleep, diet, exercise or even music. Fuller also suggests asking your child to focus on their feelings for ten minutes before having any discussion. This goes hand-in-hand with learning to recognise and name feelings, both their own and other people’s. 

A special word on teenagers.

While they might become less communicative, sleep more and want to spend less time in family activities, teenagers “need you as much as, if not more than when they were little.”  Fuller says not to confuse your teenager wanting more independence with giving them less supervision.  He says teenagers, especially tricky ones, need lots of time with their parents so you can model good behaviour, “create patterns of learning and thinking that are productive” and give them a sense of options.

Comments (2)

YvetteVignando's picture

Andrew Fuller

Andrew has great ideas. he will be presenting in one of our webinars in the next couple of months - watch out for news on this in the Exclusive Parenting Events box on the right hand side column - but we'll also let you know about it in our monthly newsletter

Jodie at Mummy Mayhem's picture

Tricky Kids

Great info here - might just have to pick up Andrew's book, because we have our fair share of tricky behavior in this house!

I actually think the 6yo likes the attention when we tell him off for something. He gets a smile on his face - it's not a smirk of "so there", but more of a "I'm pleased" kind of smile! Think I'll have to remove him from his audience in future!