Maggie and James were involved parents. They participated in their kid’s school, coached a team or two, helped with homework, and knew the names of their kid’s friends. But for some reason, one of their three kids was constantly in trouble. The other two enjoyed a great reputation at their school but their sister was the exception. She spend hours in the principal’s office, got in fights, struggled to make friends, and was difficult to teach.
Her parents ran educational tests only to discover that she was brighter than her grades would reflect. On a daily basis, Maggie feared being approached by another parent or teacher with a story of her daughter’s behavior. It always started the same, “I have the funniest story about your daughter. You will never believe what she did today.” Believe what she did? Are they joking? Of course she acted out, when didn’t she?
After a frustrating couple of years at school, Maggie and James brought their daughter into counseling. Following a session with the whole family, the therapist decided to work with the parents and not their daughter first. While their parenting skills were naturally great for their other two kids, it did not work for their daughter. Difficult kids (or strong-willed children) need separate parenting techniques. Here are the 7 things the therapist asked her parents to do differently.
- Invite Participation. In the past, her parents would impose the rules onto their daughter. Instead they were asked to sit down with their daughter and come up with five basic positive rules for the house together. For example, a rule is “be kind” rather than “don’t hit”. This allows their daughter to feel a part of the process rather than having it forced on her.
- Ask for Rewards/Consequences. By asking their daughter for rewards that she wants for following the rules or consequences for not following the rules, Maggie found out what her daughter valued. Before, Maggie would punish her daughter and her daughter would not care about the punishment. This frustrated both parties and the behavior didn’t change.
- Be Consistent. Generally speaking, Maggie was better at being consistent than James. Their daughter knew this and often pitted the parents against each other. When her parents got on the same page and remained consistent, their daughter did better. The united front that her parents created worked.
- Limit Emotion. Surprisingly, their daughter appeared relieved when her behavior caused her parents to get angry. This only aggravated the situation and worsened her parent’s response. When her parents limited their emotional reaction, their daughter had less intense reactions. She seemed to mirror her parent’s more calm response.
- No “Why” Questions. “Why would you do this?” was a typical almost daily question that James asked his daughter. Her responses were “I don’t know” or “Cause I don’t care,” which only angered James even more. Instead, her parents stopped asking “Why” and said, “Tell about what happened?” This kept her parents on their daughter’s side and not opposing her.
- Short Explanations. James was perhaps more guilty of delivering long-winded explanations or lectures to their daughter. This did not help their relationship but rather hurt it because their daughter felt talked down to. In response, their daughter would talk down to others. So James limited his explanations to two simple sentences.
- Talk to the Emotion. Sometimes their daughter needed her emotions to be acknowledged instead of a constant barrage of logical, analytical talk. When her parents started a conversation by saying, “I see that you are angry,” their daughter felt heard and no longer needed to elevate her response.
These 7 techniques did not change their daughter’s personality but it did make dealing with her easier. Her parents were then able to appreciate their daughter’s free spirit, her ability to look around the rules, and her tenacity in getting her point across. This changed the dynamitic in the household and made living with their daughter a pleasure.