How to Deal with Your Difficult Child

How to Deal with Your Difficult Child
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 28 July, 2022

There are many parents that complain because they have a very difficult child. A child that is always overcome with anger, which they end up releasing in an inappropriate way. With tantrums, bad words or subtle acts of disobedience.

We should be clear on the fact that no two children are alike. None of us can know what type of needs this creature we just brought into the world may have, though we may wish the best for them.

Difficult children and contained emotion

Emotions are the source of human energy. It’s the key that should guide children, not only to understand themselves, but also, later on, to understand the world.

Difficult children tend to generate a very high level of stress for their parents, in some cases causing them a feeling of helplessness. It’s not an easy topic to discuss. In fact, books aren’t always helpful, nor are our experiences with our other children or the recommendations of other parents.

Your child, the difficult child, is unique and special. And if there’s something they always need it’s understanding. Most of the time these are children with high demands locked away in their inner palaces, spaces where they can’t find doors through which to express their contained emotions.

girl in candyland

Let’s give an example. Think about a child who has had a bad day at school. He gets home and when his parents ask him what’s happened, this child responds badly. Therefore, his parents decide to punish him in his room the whole afternoon. What have they gained by doing this? Have they solved the problem? Not at all.

A blocked emotion is a thorn surrounded by a stone wall. If we raise the wall even higher, the thorn will be even more deeply hidden. Thus, the first step is to start taking away each and every stone from that wall through communication and affection.

What are difficult children like?

If the difficult child builds up walls around himself, don’t build up entire cities around his walls. Don’t isolate him. Don’t neglect him. Don’t leave him alone. We all know they can be hard to reach. Nevertheless, you should keep the following aspects in mind:

  • A difficult child isn’t always the result of a bad upbringing. You shouldn’t blame anyone.
  • There are children with high demands that ask for much more than the “average” child. It’s their personality, part of who they are and that doesn’t mean that we, as parents, have done something wrong.
  • A demanding child that doesn’t obtain what they seek or that doesn’t know how to express it ends up becoming frustrated. They often times end up overwhelmed by endless emotions: rage that alternates with sadness, boredom or anger…
  • Difficult children require a greater level of attention, understanding, support and even creativity on behalf of their parents. 
child sleeping

We should be the architects of their worlds and make safe worlds for them where they can be comfortable enough to express that contained emotion. An emotion that will allow them to know themselves, blow off steam, feel more free and safe in order to move forward through each of the scenarios that define the child through his life.

How to help a difficult child channel their emotions

We already know that a difficult child demands above all our attention. We must have strategies to attend to their needs in a creative way in order to help them manage this whole emotional world that at times overwhelms and blocks them.

Always remember that emotional intelligence isn’t an innate trait. It’s a skill. Therefore, as parents, it’s our duty to transmit these strategies and knowledge to our children.

How can we help our difficult children develop emotional intelligence so that they can channel, give shape and express their contained emotions?

Positive reinforcement

If we reproach a difficult child for their mistakes, if we undervalue them, and scold them for their reactions, we’ll be generating even more rage and anxiety. Always remember that this type of child is deep down very fragile. They have very low self-esteem.

Use certain phrases as simple as: “I trust you”, “I know you’ll be able to do this”, “I know you’re special”, “I know you’re a brave kid and that’s why I love you” …

Positive sayings generate positive emotions, and positive emotions generate confidence.

Communication that doesn’t judge, compare or sentence

Some parents make the mistake of comparing a difficult child with their siblings or with other children. This isn’t right. Just like it’s a mistake to start a dialogue that already implies certain sentences like: “You’re lazy, you never listen, you are always misbehaving…” Avoid this type of communication and follow these tips:

  • Don’t probe or interrogate them. Discover when the child feels the most comfortable to talk.
  • Give them confidence, closeness and comprehension. Watch your tone of voice. This is something basic in order to communicate with children.
  • The communication should be daily and continuous.
  • Don’t every laugh or use sarcasm about something your children said. To them, it is important. And if they feel that lack of empathy from you, they’ll avoid being honest with you in the future.

Promote an inner balance within the child 

drawing- person meditating

Teach them that each emotion can transform in a word. That anger has shape, that sadness can be alleviated through sharing, that crying isn’t a bad thing and that you’ll always be there to listen to them.

Teach them to breathe, to relax, to channel their emotions through certain activities through which they can blow off steam and distract themselves…Teach them to accept the frustration that the world isn’t always how they want it to be. 

Teach them to listen and to talk with assertiveness. Tell them that their voice will always be heard, that everything they say is important to you…Teach them to have responsibilities, to value themselves through each step and decision they make…

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.