5 Tips for Parenting Harder to Parent Kids

Dawn Davenport


tips for parenting abused adopted kids

Sometimes parenting feels like we are soaring. Everything is clicking—we get the kids out the door in the morning without a major tantrum and we’re no more than 10 minutes late, we are eating semi-nutritious meals most days, and the little darlings are in bed with a minimum of fuss and teeth more or less brushed most nights.

Then there are times when it feels like we are slugging it out in the trenches. Often it is one particular child that puts us there. Perhaps this child was adopted at an older age after experiencing trauma, or maybe she has brain damage  caused by prenatal exposure to alcohol or drugs, or maybe this child’s temperament is a really poor match for yours. Whatever the reason, some kids are simply more challenging to parent.

When you are in the trenches it’s hard to see a way out. It’s at those times that you need some “quick” tips and tricks to help you cope. Read over these tips every week until you start to climb your way out of the parenting depths.

Tips for Parenting Harder to Parent Adopted Kids

1. Self-care.

Our number one recommendation before you do anything else is to take care of yourself. You’ve heard the airplane analogy ad nauseam, but it’s true: “You have to put on your own air mask before you can help someone else.” Your sanity and your energy are the most important thing you bring to your family and to this challenging child, so you must find a way on a regular basis to recharge. An afternoon window shopping (or actual shopping) at the mall by yourself, a Saturday morning at Starbucks, a monthly massage, regular attendance at an exercise class, participating in the church choir, or a daily run. Whatever feeds your soul qualifies as self-care, and this should be a priority.

2. Find your someone.

This is similar to self-care, with a similarly trite analogy: When your battery is dead, you need to connect with a live battery to recharge. Who is your live battery? Who can you connect with when you are in the trenches? Who will understand and support you? An online or in person friend who’s been where you’re at, a therapist, your spouse, or all three. Find this someone, and let them know that you are struggling and will need to lean on them to help you through.

3. Learn.

Our mantra here at Creating a Family is knowledge is power! The more you learn about the forces that shaped your child/foster child and you, the better able you are to cope and to raise this child. Read or listen to interviews about the impact of trauma on a child here and here. Learn about how alcohol and drug exposure during pregnancy can leave their mark here and here. Learn how your own temperament and personality and attachment style influences how you respond to this child.

4. Cut you and your adopted/foster child some slack.

Cultivate empathy for yourself and your child. When you are in the thick of it, it’s hard to do, but after she is asleep (and looking angelic), list in your head the things that happened to her that brought her to this place. Focus on the fact that your child is not purposely trying to drive you crazy and make you feel like a failure. And while you are thinking, direct some thoughts inward. What issues from your past are you bringing to this interaction? Do you hate conflict because of the family you came from? Do you need a lot of order in your life to feel secure? Does your love language conflict with this child’s. For example, do you crave physical affection, but this child expresses love through being helpful.

5. Play.

Never underestimate the power of having fun as a person and family to help you through the dark times. As Allison Douglas, Family Advocate with the Harmony Center, said in a Creating a Family Radio show (Parenting Toolkit for Harder to Parent Kids): “The more difficult the child, the more fun you should be having with them.” Find one thing that you and your child both enjoy and make a point of doing it frequently. Once you find one thing, look for something else. It should be simple and cheap: bike riding, playing catch, watching Sponge Bob, reading books out loud, or baking cookies.


There you have it—5 tips that can help you when parenting a child with difficult behaviors. These are not one and done tips that you can do once and check off of a list. They are lifestyle changes that you need to make to help your child and help yourself.

What tips can you add? What has worked for you to keep you sane and at your parenting best with harder to parent kids?

Other Creating a Family Resources You Will Find Helpful

31/05/2017 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Adoption, Adoption Blog, Fostering, Fostering Blog, Other Adoption Resources, Other Fostering Resources | 5 Comments

5 Responses to 5 Tips for Parenting Harder to Parent Kids

  1. Avatar Full Spectrum Mama says:

    Wow – such a thoughtful comment above. So much i wish i had known early on.

    I could probably go on and on but the two from the post and comment that REALLY stick with me are about humor and play, and about not buying into the drama (conflict, in comment).

    Without these two strategies, we’d not be here today!!

    And they are connected: It can feel natural to get sucked into conflict, because attachment disordered kids are experts at causing chaos and thereby confirming their own distrust of the world; it feels unnatural – believe me, i know – to try to find the spirit of humor and pay. But when we CAN do these two things, it can actually open things up for actual mutual trust and enjoyment!!!!

    Thanks and love, Full Spectrum Mama

  2. Avatar Natalie says:

    I could list 1,000…
    6) Avoid triggers – identify scenarios, behaviors, and things that will trigger the child’s emotional issues.
    7) Counseling – can’t say enough about the importance of providing the child a neutral outlet to vent and confide in, particularly because they will call the child out and reinforce things you’ve said a million times, but they listen to professionals.
    8) Leave the ppast behind – don’t give free passes for treating you like a format, but at some point, allow the slate to be wiped clean, offering the child a fresh chance to forge a better path next time.
    9) Keep it short – correct in 10 words or less. After 10 words, you sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher. Give a clear, succinct command, repeat, enforce if disobeyed.
    10) Take action after the second no. If you’ve given direction or correction, and are defied asnd told no, repeat. If you get the second no, THAT’S the time to immediately discipline, put in tikme out, taske a priveledge, or fireman carry kicking and screaming. Don’t wait for the explosion to act, follow through on the second no.
    11) “as soon as” should be your response to their requests. They want to stay up a little later than bedtime…AS SOON AS you brush your teeth and get pjs on. They want to play outside or make plans…AS SOON AS you pick up x, take out x, etc. Make them accountable, not entitled.
    12) Be careful to commit or promise plans unless you know you can follow through. Thst can be a huge trigger when things suddenly change.
    13) Look for the flowers not the weeds. Try to focus on the positives of their day, grades, etc. By only pointing out the negatives, you’ll wear them down. Show them you notice the good first and foremost, and watch the blooms spread.
    14) Don’t give them the conflict they want. Yes, often these kids feel a release when they can cause conflict and break your spirit, make you snap. Try and detach in a heated exchange, stay monotone, walk away, don’t feel you have win that battle. If you don’t allow the p it to boil over, eventually the water simmers until it’s evaporated.
    15) Do ask your partner to support you, not undermine you, particularly in heated exchanges. My husband can’t handle the episode’s, he has to leave for a bit. That’s way better than him screaming at you to stop screaming at the child, thereby redirecting focus from the real issue. Ensure they back you up, even if they don’t agree with your approach, stasnd as a united front until you can talk privately. THE MINUTE you two take opposing sides, the child will exploit and repeat the behavior to win support every time.
    16) Don’t dwell, but do discuss when the storm is over. After a bad episode, talk to the child, that day, or the next. Try to determine the trigger, the reason, talk them through how the could have better reacted.
    17) Love through the resentment. Yes, I’m human…after being screamed at and treated limed a format for years, my instincts are to just close myself off. Instead, it will help you heal and reconnect to force yourself to hug, kiss, embrace, praise, smile, restart. Pretty soon, your heart will catch up.
    18) Senses soothe. Encourage them to seek a calmiing slaace with maybe a fragrant candle, soft plush blanket or stuffy, soothing music, unharsh light…create a soothing “cool down” spit, not a cold cell.

    I could go on all night, lol.

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