Sunday, 22 October 2017

How To Help A Challenging Child

Long-time readers of my blog will know that my 5 year old, Eleanor, has difficulties with regulating her emotions and behaviour. In other words, she's quite a handful!

As a gentle parent, I try my best to remember the mantra, "she's not giving me a hard time, she's having a hard time." I'm a firm believer that children do their best but that some struggle with certain areas of development more than others.

So it doesn't really make sense to me to punish Eleanor for the things she gets wrong, because developmentally she's just not there yet. Just like you wouldn't tell a child off for finding it hard to learn to read, I try not to tell her off for not achieving a standard of behaviour she's struggling to reach. Please note the word 'try' there - I'm only human, and at times I do get cross and tell her off. But guess what? That doesn't really work. Because she just can't do - or not do - what I'm asking of her yet.

So what can you do if you've got a challenging child and you can't somehow 'hurry up' their emotional and behavioural development? Well, I'm not an expert on this - I've only dealt with one challenging child and we're not yet through the woods with her! But here are a few things I've tried that have helped.

Using their interests to encourage the good

While in Reception Eleanor was having a particularly hard time following the rules. She likes superheroes, so one thing we did which helped a bit was reframing the rules as things a superhero would do. We made her a little card to keep in her pocket and remind her how to be a superhero:


OK, some of those things really aren't to do with superheroes, but it did get her into a better frame of mind. I know nothing about the psychology behind this, but I'm guessing having a role to play as 'Super Eleanor' somehow made it easier to follow the rules, as if it was all part of a game. I don't know. But it helped!

Noticing positives - and saying why they're positive!

Our children live in quite a reward-heavy culture these days. Stickers, behaviour charts, points etc - they're all intended to reward the good. Trouble is, sometimes children won't really understand why what they've done is good. With Eleanor, she sometimes doesn't even remember why she got the reward at all! I remember her getting a sticker at preschool for 'being good' but could she tell me what she'd actually done or why it was good? No.

I think it's easy for us to assume that the reason why good behaviour is good is obvious when actually it might not be. So I not only point out when Eleanor has done something positive, but say why. So that might be something like, "Thank you for putting your toys away, that really helps me tidy the rest of the room so it's safe and nice." (LOL, just kidding. She rarely puts her toys away. But that's what I say if ever she did.)

Spending quality time together

How much of your time with your child is spent arguing, nagging, ordering, persuading etc etc? I spend so much time just telling Eleanor what she needs to do next, from getting dressed in the morning, to doing her school reading, to going upstairs to brush her teeth in the evening. It can be really hard to factor in some pleasant time in amongst all the busyness, and that's without the petty battles over silly things.

Lots of experts advocate having a daily special time, of around 10 minutes, where you are entirely focussed on one child and do something they want to do. I really want to implement this but I've no idea when - in the mornings I've got both kids to deal with and Ezra still needs close supervision, and by the time my other half is home in the evening we're into the routine of tea and bedtimes, and Eleanor is so tired it's hard to get any sense out of her. 

But I try to find moments to enjoy Eleanor every day, whether that's reading her bedtime story or just having a cuddle. We used to have what we called 'magical Mummy Eleanor time' for an hour or so at the weekend but that's been too hard to fit in since she started football and swimming classes on Saturdays. It did make a difference though, she seemed more settled when we did it. I need to try again with that.

Look after yourself

I'm terrible at this. But it's exhausting dealing with a child who's struggling with anything, not just behaviour. It's exhausting being a parent at all! And it's really, really hard to stay calm and positive when you're exhausted. So whenever possible, try to find ways to look after yourself. I know, it's hard - I've written a whole post about how hard it is. But if I don't want my daughter shouting and snapping, I need to not do that too! I'm her role model, so I need to stay calm enough to show her how to handle big feelings.

And aside from my position as role model, I matter too. So do you. There's no point pushing yourself to the brink, because then you can't look after anyone else. It's a tough balancing acts meeting your children's needs and your own, one I haven't even begun to master. But we need to try.


So those are my tips. As I've said, I'm no expert and I've certainly not transformed my child's behaviour, but these little things do make a difference over time.

Linking up with Day 22 of #Blogtober17 - Villains and Superheroes.

#Blogtober17

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