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
Our number one recommendation before you do anything else is 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.
Our mantra here at Creating a Family is knowledge is power! The more you learn about the forces that shaped your 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 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.
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 your 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
- Effective Discipline for Lying, Stealing, and Other Challenging Behaviors
- Parenting the Argumentative, Irritable, Angry Child
- Practical Tips for Parenting a Child with ADHD